Covid 'severely hampered' efforts to stop at-risk people in Newcastle being drawn into terrorism

By Daniel Holland

The Covid pandemic has “severely hampered” efforts to stop people in Newcastle from being drawn into terrorism.

City council chiefs say that lockdown restrictions imposed since the virus hit in 2020 have made it much harder to contact and support vulnerable people who are susceptible to being radicalised online.

Newcastle was named in 2019 as an area for priority funding from the Home Office’s anti-extremism Prevent programme due to an increasing threat from extreme right wing activity online.

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But officials say that work has been made much harder while people have been stuck at home during lockdowns.

A report from council Prevent coordinator Joe Hogan states: “Prevent is about safeguarding vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism and experience tells us that the best way to do this is by raising awareness of the threat within our communities.

“Covid 19 has severely hampered our ability to reach the most vulnerable in our communities, leaving some susceptible to the risks of extremist online narratives.”

Ahead of a meeting of the city’s Voluntary Sector Liaison Group on Thursday, the council is asking for help from other organisations across the city to raise awareness of the threat of radicalisation and reach out to those most vulnerable.

Earlier this year, a 16-year-old from Newcastle was sentenced after pleading guilty to inviting support for National Action, a banned neo-Nazi organisation.

Last December, 23-year-old Luke Hunter was jailed for more than four years for terrorism offences.

A Newcastle City Council spokesperson said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on all working areas, and this includes our statutory Prevent duties.

“While engagement work has continued to raise awareness of online safety and help people understand how to spot the signs if someone they know may be being radicalised online, it has not been as widespread as we would have hoped due to the constraints of the pandemic.

“That is why we want to build on our existing relationships with voluntary and community sector organisations in Newcastle to be able to use their vast networks to engage with as many people as possible and safeguard more people against radicalisation.

“Newcastle is a safe and welcoming city but sadly there are people seeking to exploit the more vulnerable members of our community and we want to work with our partners to provide the greatest level of protection possible.”

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