Neighbours who keep the curtains closed and a boy who likes to draw guns among ‘suspects’ of terror hotline
A schoolboy ‘obsessed’ with drawing pictures of bombs and guns, and a neighbour who liked to keep his curtains drawn, are among dozens of people being reported to a police scheme aimed to unearth potential terrorists.
Critics of the Channel Project say it encourages people to spy on their neighbours, but police claim the scheme’s aim is to prevent ‘vulnerable people’ becoming radicalised.
Dozens of people in East Lancashire, mainly aged between 15 and 24, have been reported to police for having either extremist Islamic views, far-right leanings and or being IRA sympathisers.
Police complete background checks on all individuals reported before a panel meets to decide if any action needs to be taken.
Interventions can range from a simple chat, to a complex mentoring and counselling process.
Some cases include:
The information has not prompted any criminal investigations, with tip-offs coming from people in public sector jobs, including teachers, social workers and bin men.
But now police are urging the wider community to report their concerns to the hotline.
The pilot schemes set up in Blackburn and Burnley are two of 28 launched last November after concerns that many neighbours in Leeds had suspicions about the 7/7 London bombers but did not report anything to police.
Opponents of the scheme say it could cause more harm than good – striking fear into communities. But police said it was ‘not about spying, but identifying vulnerable people and helping them’.
Inspector Paul Goodall, the sceme’s coordinator for East Lancashire, said the project aimed to target those with ‘extremist views’. He said: ‘We are looking at people who would not normally come on to our radar.
‘In their behaviour they may not actually be doing anything wrong, but if we have concerns about how they could develop, it is our role to engage with that person.
‘The Channel Project is all about supporting vulnerable individuals.
‘This is a massive change for us because these people are not criminals. We hope and expect that the numbers of referrals will increase.’
Blackburn MP and for Justice Secretary Jack Straw said a fine balance needed to be found to protect the public and not infringe on people’s privacy.
He said: ‘The horror of terrorism is that he victims are chosen at random and as someone who was involved in an IRA attack in the 1970s I know hat it is one of those areas that the police cannot ignore.
‘I am reassured that this project is in the hands of Lancashire police, who have a fantastic record in working with the community.’
Salim Mulla, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said it was a ‘step too far’.
He said: ‘People in the community already know what their responsibilities are and people will report to the police if they see anything suspicious.
‘I think this could just create fear among the community.’