What’s Preventing You From Talking To Me?

Norwegian student Terry Sorensen spent six months asking the Metropolitan Police to talk to him about the UK’s anti-terrorist Prevent strategy. Now about to return home, he’s given up on both British police and the democracy they are meant to be defending.

After trying for six months to get hold of someone from the Metropolitan Police to talk to me about Prevent, I have finally given up. I’ve been in person to four different police stations, and phoned/emailed the press office on numerous occasions, but it just seems that they stone wall me every time.

Prevent is the government strategy for countering terrorism and containing extremism. All public bodies, including universities, are now obliged to sign up to it – by law. You might think therefore that those in whom is vested the statutory power to implement Prevent, would be willing to account for their actions. Not a bit of it.

The last police station I went to was the one in Stratford, having been re-directed there from Forest Gate. At Stratford an officer by the name of Gareth promised he would obtain permission for me to interview him or else he would arrange for a more senior officer to do the talking. Sounding affable and helpful, either way he was definitely going to get back to me.

You can hear hear how I got this far by listening to the audio file below:

At this point I wrote a hopeful note to my editor, convinced that the interview was finally going to happen. But Gareth did not come back to me until my deadline had passed – and the text of his email (below) suggests he knew exactly what he was doing:

Terry,

Apologies but some rather important matters arose yesterday that prevented me being able to get back to you for this.

I understand your deadline has now passed but if I can be of help in the future please let me know.

Regards,

Gareth

Nor is this the first time I have been fobbed off. Without ever coming straight out and saying it, the police have effectively been refusing my request for an interview since last November.

The idea seems to be that we should just sign up for the Prevent policy and abide buy it. Beyond that, we are allowed to ask questions – just don’t expect to have them answered.

But maybe this catalogue of minor mistakes, missing links and failing to follow through is just another example of history-as-cock-up. There is evidence to back up this theory. In Stratford the police station did not open until 15 minutes after the advertised time (imagine if it was a shop or a pub!), and then the receptionist didn’t know if there was a Prevent officer based there. But at least her response was not quite as unfit for purpose as the out-of-hours phone which I photographed outside the station (see below). And they call this ‘total policing’!

dysfunctionalphone
In contrast to the day-to-day dysfunctions of local policing, some aspects of Prevent come close to totalitarianism. At a recent seminar in Stratford, Dr Jo Finch from the University of East London and David McKendrick from Glasgow Caledonian University, warned that ‘anti-radicalisation’ is set to become the primary narrative in social work – rather than actually helping troubled families. These academics were concerned that social workers are already required to work on families rather than with them, all the while on the lookout for a ‘fixed trajectory of identifiable markers’ which the strategy is supposed to Prevent.

Finch and McKendrick reported that since July 2015 many public service providers have undergone Prevent training, including prison staff, social workers and librarians. All these professions are now tasked to report any activity which is perceived to be out of line with core ‘British values’.

If it comes to a choice between dysfunctional versus totalitarian elements in UK policing, of course I will opt for the former. But what I would really like is for someone in authority to deign to explain the strategy to me – before I go back home to Norway convinced that British democracy is almost as sadly lacking as those it is meant to Prevent.