Counterterrorism police in the U.K. warn that the threat from terrorism has not been diminished by the global pandemic, despite the COVID-19 lockdown continuing to reduce the number of terrorism-related arrests.
The Home Office’s quarterly release of statistics relating to the police’s use of powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 revealed that there were a total of 215 arrests for terrorism-related activity in the year ending 30 September 2020, 18% (48) fewer than the number in the previous 12-month period.
This continues the downwards trend seen in the last quarterly statistical release in September, which is largely due to an overall reduction in crime since the beginning of the national lockdown in March.
Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, said: “We frequently use non-terrorism legislation to make arrests and disrupt terrorist activity, and that overall reduction in crime has had an impact on this activity.
“But I want to remind everyone that we have recently seen the U.K. terror threat raised to Severe, meaning an attack is highly likely, and although COVID-19 understandably remains at the forefront of people’s minds we must be vigilant against more than just the virus.
“As we move out of the tightest lockdown restrictions into a busy shopping period in the run-up to Christmas, we want the public to join the police, security staff and retail workers in a collective community effort to minimize the chance of attack.
“When we say that ‘communities defeat terrorism’ it is not just a catchphrase. We know from experience that public information and action helps save lives and leads to the significant arrests detailed in these statistics.
“I would urge everyone to remain vigilant and act if you see anything suspicious by reporting it to us confidentially via gov.uk/ACT or by calling 0800 789 321. In an emergency, always dial 999.”
Free online training from counterterrorism experts is available to help citizens increase their awareness and improve responses and reactions in the event of a terror attack.
One of the most concerning aspects of the latest statistics was that children under the age of 18 were the only age category which saw an increase – rising from 11 to 17 in total. That is a total of 8% of all arrests, which has risen from just 4% in the previous 12 months.
“Unfortunately we are seeing increasing numbers of young people arrested in relation to terrorism,” added DAC Haydon.
“But it doesn’t have to be this way. Ideally we would identify when a young person is being led down the path towards terrorism activity and use the Prevent program to try and put them on a different path.
“Our research tells us that parents, family members and friends are the first to see the changes in behavior which might indicate that a loved one is being radicalized. But currently just 2% of people we help through the Prevent program come to the program because of concerns raised by those same people who know them best.
“That is why we recently launched a new website and helpline – www.actearly.uk – designed specifically to offer advice and support for parents and family members who think their loved one might be following a dangerous path towards extremism.
“Asking for help is a difficult and emotional step, but we must see it for what it is – action which won’t ruin their lives but may well save them.”