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U.K.: Terrorism Arrests Decline, But Pandemic Has Not Defeated Terrorists

The number of terrorism-related arrests in the U.K. has declined, due primarily to three months of national lockdown (April-June) and subsequent periods of regional lockdown in cities and regions across the country.

The British government’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 229 arrests for terrorism-related activity in the year ending 30 June 2020. This figure is 17% (47 arrests) less than the number in the previous 12-month period. 

The number of arrests is the lowest for nine years and is below the average of 251 arrests since the statistics were recorded starting in 2002. As expected, the reduction was largely seen during the final three months of the year to 30 June, when the country was in pandemic lockdown.

71 of the 229 arrests resulted in a charge (31%), of which 62 were for terrorism-related offenses. 69 (30%) persons were either released under bail pending further investigation or released under investigation without bail conditions. 49 people (21%) were released without charge. 27 (12%) faced alternative action, for example receiving a caution, being recalled to prison or being transferred to immigration authorities. 13 cases (6%) were awaiting an outcome to be assigned at the time of analysis.

As in previous years, and similar to other types of crime, the vast majority of those arrested for terrorism-related activity were males. However, 20 of the 229 arrests were females (9%), a fall of 11 arrests compared with previous 12-month period. The total number of females arrested was similar to the annual average arrested (23) over the entire time series. The proportion of females arrested has been the same as or above the series average (9%) in each of the past nine years. 

There were falls in the number of arrests across all age-groups apart from the ‘21 to 24’ group, which increased by 6 (from 26 to 32), compared with the previous year. As in previous years, the ‘30 and over’ age-group accounted for most arrests (55%). Those aged under 18 accounted for 5% of arrests, a fall of 1 percentage point compared with the previous year. 

Ethnic appearance is also recorded by the arresting officer. There were falls in the number of arrests across all ethnic groups when compared with the previous year. Arrests for those of White ethnic appearance decreased by 21% when compared with the previous year (from 120 arrests to 95 arrests). There was also a 18% decrease in the number of arrests of people of Black ethnic appearance (from 28 arrests to 23) and a 14% decrease in the number of arrests of people of Asian ethnic appearance (from 98 arrests to 84). 

The proportion of White people arrested exceeded the proportion of Asian people arrested for the third consecutive year, having not done previously since the year ending June 2005. Arrests of persons of White ethnic appearance accounted for 41% of arrests, down 3 percentage points on the previous year. Those of Asian ethnic appearance accounted for 37% of terrorist-related arrests, up 1 percentage point on the previous year. The proportion of those arrested who were of Black ethnic appearance was 10%, the same as the previous year. Those of ‘Other’ ethnic appearance accounted for 12% of arrests, up two percentage points on the previous year.

Of those arrested in the latest year, 76% considered themselves to be of British or British dual nationality, up seven percentage points on the previous year. 

In the courts, 49 persons were tried for terrorism-related offenses, and 45 of these were convicted. The most common sentence length in the latest year was under 4 years, which accounted for 44% of sentences (20 of 45 convictions). There were 13 sentence lengths between 4 and 10 years, accounting for 29% of the total. Two individuals received life sentences, down from 3 in the previous year and 10 in the year before that. Those given a life sentence accounted for 4% of all those sentenced in the latest year (2 sentences), down from 6% in the previous year (3 sentences). There were 4 sentences of 10 years or more, an increase of 1 compared with the previous year. The number of noncustodial sentences decreased from 6 to 4 in the latest year. There were also 2 hospital orders in the latest year, compared with none in the previous year. 

Of the 45 persons convicted of terrorism-related offenses, 26 (58%) pleaded guilty and 19 (42%) entered a not-guilty plea. 

As at 30 June 2020, there were 243 persons in custody for terrorism-related offenses in the U.K., an increase of 24 compared with the previous year. Of the 243 persons in custody, 217 had been convicted (89%). The remaining 11% were being held on remand (held in custody until a later date when a trial or sentencing hearing will take place). 

Of those in custody, around three quarters (76%) were categorized as holding Islamist-extremist views. A further 19% were categorized as holding far right-wing ideologies with the remaining prisoners (6%) holding beliefs related to other ideologies. The number of Islamist-extremist prisoners held in custody (184), as at 30 June 2020, was 4% below the peak of 192 as at 31 December 2017. The proportion of prisoners holding far right ideologies has increased steadily over the past 3 years, with the number up from 33 to 45 in the latest year. There were 14 prisoners holding ‘Other’ ideologies, the same as the previous year.

A total of 54 prisoners held for terrorism-related offenses were released from custody in Britain in the latest year, compared with 58 in the previous year. Of the 54 prisoners released, 42 (78%) were persons released from custody after serving sentences, many of whom will be subject to meeting certain conditions. Of the 54 released from custody, 16 had received sentences of less than 4 years, and 26 had sentences of 4 years or more (including 2 life sentences). No one was released following an indeterminate sentence for public protection. Twelve people had been convicted but not yet been sentenced.

Dean Haydon, Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing and Deputy Assistant Commissioner, says the country should not become complacent as the coronavirus pandemic will not defeat terrorism. “Despite this reduction in arrests, we must not be complacent and think the threat from terrorism has diminished. The national Counter Terrorism network has evolved over the last few months to make sure we’ve continued to provide our vital service to protect the public, but as ever we need your help in this task. When we say that ‘Communities defeat terrorism’ it is not just a catchphrase. We know from experience that public information and action, including being vigilant, helps save lives and lead to the significant arrests detailed in these statistics.”

See the full terrorism crime statistics at the U.K. government

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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