At the age of 18 Adam was extremely keen and enthusiastic to enrol at college in order to pursue his lifelong passion for engineering. He was an instant success, both on his course and with his fellow students.
He was often at the centre of social groups and embraced the new-found freedoms college life provided. Occasionally, this resulted in over exuberance, but he was always receptive and respectful of staff who tried to moderate his behaviours.
During his school years, he had received a short course of treatment for ADHD and in his early life he had been assessed for possible autistic traits. He was never diagnosed, however.
Early into his studies, Adam was excited to find romance, and entered the relationship with his characteristic over-enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the relationship was short lived; Adam and his girlfriend parted ways.
It was apparent that Adam had taken it badly. He quickly became introverted, disinterested in class and extremely argumentative, particularly towards staff.
Adams’ mentor spoke to him on several occasions, discussing in detail his changing behaviour and mood swings. It was always assumed that it was largely due to his failed relationship.
In the meantime, Adam formed a friendship with a student named Danyaal, an 18 year -old Muslim boy in his social circle. Danyaal, like Adam, was a keen ‘gamer’ and they shared an interest in online games. At one meeting with his mentor, Adam spoke of joining an online group with similar minded gamers.
The mentor later recalled her initial concern when Adam told her the group were ‘all men from foreign countries’ and ‘all played under false game related names’.
Weeks passed and Adams’ behaviour became increasingly more challenging. He was often confronted by teachers about his openly aggressive behaviour and the girl he had had a short relationship with complained that she’d received inappropriate text messages from Adam.
She said that Adam had made bizarre references to religious texts, often accompanied by disturbing images of mutilated bodies on battlefields and numerous pictures of victims of ‘Columbine’ and other American school shootings.
Following several complaints, Adams’ mentor arranged a lunchtime meeting with him. Like any other day, Adam walked through the college reception where several student groups had set up stalls for respective sports clubs and societies. He immediately entered an argument with two students handing out leaflets for a student Christian group, which culminated in Adam knocking the table over.
College security staff immediately intervened and reported the incident. At the mentor meeting, Adam was angry, refusing to answer questions about his behaviour, insistent on continually expressing grievances about worldly conflicts. On two occasions, he referred to the victims of those conflicts as ‘brothers.’
He also confirmed he had recently converted to Islam, the ceremony having been carried out by Danyaal in the college. Throughout the meeting, Adam continuously refused to sit down and eventually left the room shouting “You’ll see!”
Later that afternoon, the college safeguarding lead visited Adams’ home address and despite the fact that he was clearly at home, he refused to answer the door. The following day the college sent Adam a letter excluding him from both his course and the college premises, and the matter was reported to the police. Adam was investigated and, subsequently, cautioned for ‘an offence relating to malicious communications’.
This resulted in both he and Danyaal being referred to the CHANNEL programme.
Although a more extreme example, Adams’ story is unfortunately becoming increasingly more common. An incident like this poses serious challenges to all educational establishments when trying to exercise their duty of care towards students. However, it is potentially a greater risk in further and higher education where young people may be experiencing increased anxiety regarding developmental and relationship pressures.
- What are your responsibilities to Adam, and how does legislation aimed at preventing violent extremism impact on this?
- WRAP (Workshop to Raise awareness of Prevent) training encourages staff to recognise the signs of potential radicalisation and make referrals.
- Does WRAP answer all your questions / concerns ?
- What are those signs?
- Would you recognise them?
- How do you distinguish between radicalised individuals, potential terrorists, and those simply experiencing the pains and anxieties of growing up?
It is currently acknowledged that those working alongside children or young adults have a responsibility and the appropriate training to identify when an individual is at risk of radicalisation. In the event of a CHANNEL referral being made by an educational authority, there is a significant chance that the referral will be returned to the organisation, with guidance to reconcile under the PREVENT duty.
Under these circumstances, would you or your organisation be equipped to assist the individual and implement the appropriate intervention strategies. There may be severe implications for the individual and institution, which fails to provide the appropriate support.
PREVENT is situated firmly in what is described as the ‘pre-criminal’ space; referrals are regularly returned to education establishments, with or without support from other agencies. The school or college is identified as having a ‘natural’ monitoring and support capability; that with regular contact with students, they are best placed to detect changes in mood, behaviour and thereby potential threats or vulnerabilities.
While I’m certain that all educational establishments are well versed in risk assessment, do they have the skills and understanding to manage what could be a lengthy, longitudinal risk? How do you maintain that organisational memory that enables you to spot sometimes nuanced changes, when the individual moves around the college and interacts with numerous staff?
As you would expect, there is a wealth of research around terrorism and the dangers of radicalisation. Interestingly, much of the recent research challenges the beliefs and theories we base our understanding on.
Grievance, long thought to be the main driver of the radicalisation process, is now considered far less significant. It is the ‘personalisation’ of that grievance that is concerning. Threat was considered a simple product of combining intent and capability. Given the shift away from sophisticated attacks to more recent ‘low-tech’ attacks, suggests that the threat now has a heavy intent bias.
The ability to form a malign intent is well documented in psychological research and includes clear pathways of mental readiness, fixation and building that personal preparedness, often involving the use of social media and the potential for others to be involved. In addition, a significant number of attackers tell someone of their intent before they carry out the attack. The response to this disclosure can be critical in preventing the attack. Understanding these issues give us a far greater chance of spotting the real potential dangers, and importantly justifying our decisions and action.
Given the confidential and sensitive nature of any Prevent referral and, in my experience, despite the careful and hugely professional manner in which they are handled and managed, consequences remain, both to the individual and organisation. Missing the signs and getting it wrong could result in further catastrophic attacks, like those we have witnessed over the past twelve months.
More importantly, Section 29 of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 provides statutory guidance which now places a lawful duty on specified authorities, of which education is one, to comply and pay due regard to the Prevent Duty; and section 30 gives the Secretary of State use the power of direction where a specified body is not complying with it. That said, there is always an individual, often extremely vulnerable at the centre of these issues, and we must do everything we can to ensure we safeguard them where necessary whilst remaining measured and proportionate in our approach.
Jangeer Kayani, Director, S.T.A.R. Consultancy and Training Ltd