William Shawcross, the former head of the charity watchdog who has made controversial comments about Islam, is to lead the struggling review of the government’s anti-radicalisation programme Prevent.
The review, first announced in January 2019, has been beset by delays. It has taken 13 months to appoint Shawcross to lead it, after the government’s first choice, Lord Carlile, was forced to step down in December 2019.
The government initially committed in law to complete and respond to the review by August 2020 but removed this requirement in new legislation.
Civil liberties and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have been calling for an independent review of Prevent for some time, claiming it fosters discrimination against people of Muslim faith or background and inhibits legitimate expression.
The appointment of Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission between 2012 and 2018, was met instantly with criticism over previous remarks he has made about Islam.
In 2012, as a director at neoconservative thinktank the Henry Jackson Society, he said: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.”
The Charity Commission for England and Wals under Shawcross’s tenure was accused of institutional bias against Muslims by the Claystone thinktank, while Muslim groups have highlighted as concerning comments he made in his book Justice and the Enemy, which appear to support use of torture and the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
Dal Babu, a former senior Muslim officer in the Met police, condemned the appointment. Babu, who dubbed Prevent a toxic brand in 2015, said: “Shawcross is a man who has demonstrated lack of independence in matters involving the Muslim community and sadly this is a missed opportunity to develop an effective [programme] that safeguards our children.”
A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said Shawcross’s appointment was a “Trumpian” move. They said: “Once again, the government is making it clear it has no interest in truly reviewing the policy. William Shawcross is singularly unfit to be a neutral and fair assessor of this government policy, which has been criticised for unfairly targeting British Muslims, given his frightening views about Islam and Muslims.
“It is ironic that a policy supposedly charged with preventing extremism is to be scrutinised by a person who holds hostile views on Islam and Muslims, who has links to people with extreme views on us, and who defends the worst excesses of the so-called ‘War on Terror’.”
The Prevent strategy includes a statutory duty for schools, NHS trusts, prisons and local authorities to report any concerns they have about people who may be at risk of turning to extremism.
Supporters of the strategy say statistics prove that it does not target one community in particular and has successfully diverted vulnerable individuals from being radicalised and becoming terrorists.
The independent review is supposed to consider the strategy, delivery and future of the Prevent programme.
Following his appointment, Shawcross said: “I intend to lead a robust and evidence-based examination of the programme, to help ensure that Britain has a clear and effective strategy to protect vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism.”
Just 11% of referrals to Prevent were ultimately deemed to be at risk of radicalisation, most recent figures showed.
Home Office data showed there were 6,287 referrals in the year to 31 March, up 10% compared with the record low in the previous year. Ultimately, 697 were deemed at risk of radicalisation and taken on by the government’s Channel programme for specialist support.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “There was a full and open recruitment process to find the new independent reviewer of prevent.
“A panel, led by an independent chair, assessed the candidates and found that Mr Shawcross met the criteria and possessed the right range of skills and experience to conduct this important review.”