MPs call for investigation into ‘spy’ allegations against Prevent

An independent investigation should be held into allegations that a government programme aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism is being used to “spy” on them, a committee of MPs will say today.

The programme, called Prevent, has been dogged by controversy and is criticised on several fronts in a report published today by the communities and local government select committee, which says the programme has “stigmatised and alienated” British Muslims.

Last October the Guardian revealed Prevent was being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of terrorist involvement. The article was denounced as “wilfully misleading” by Alan Johnson, the home secretary.

Phyllis Starkey, the committee chair, said: “Many witnesses made plain they believe Prevent has been used to ‘spy’ on Muslim communities. The misuse of terms such as ‘intelligence gathering’ amongst Prevent partners has clearly discredited the programme and fed distrust. Information required to manage Prevent has been confused with intelligence gathering undertaken by the police to combat crime and surveillance used by the security services to actively pursue terrorism suspects.”

The committee report does not back the government’s unequivocal denunciation of the reports of spying and concludes: “We cannot ignore the volume of evidence we have seen and heard which demonstrates a continuing lack of trust of the programme amongst those delivering and receiving services. Based on the evidence we have received, it is not possible for us to take a view. If the government wants to improve confidence in the Prevent programme, it should commission an independent investigation into the allegations made.”

The all-party report says the government should stop trying to “engineer” a so-called moderate form of Islam and pay more attention to other factors leading to violent extremism, including foreign policy, the higher than average poverty rates faced by Muslims and alienation.

Guardian, 30 March 2010

Read the Communities and Local Government Committee’s report here.

See also Phyllis Starkey, “Mishandling Muslim communities”, Comment is Free, 30 March 2010