The Government’s Anti-Terrorism Hotline is “ineffective” and “intimidating” when it comes family and friends raising concerns about worrying behaviour of someone they know, it is claimed.
Research led by a University of Huddersfield professor has shown that greater levels of sensitivity and understanding must be shown towards people who are contemplating whether or not to alert the authorities about someone they suspect of violent extremism.
People surveyed in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, from both Muslim and white communities, described the hotline as remote, intimidating and inappropriate for reporting the early stages of concern about a friend of relation.
Rather than call a counter-terrorism hotline, people said they would prefer to speak to a local police officer face-to-face.
Paul Thomas, Professor of Youth and Policy at the University of Huddersfield, has headed a project titled: Community Reporting Thresholds.
Funded by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST), the research fills a critical blind spot in international attempts to counter violent extremism.
One key conclusion arising from the research is that reporting to the police is such a grave step that most community respondents would only do so after a staged process.
First, they would attempt to dissuade their friend/relation, and also take guidance from family members, friends and trusted community leaders.
Some younger respondents would also share concerns with lecturers or teachers.
If those concerns needed escalating, the research showed that people want to report to local police, not counter-terrorism specialists.
They also wish to do so in person, so that they could assess how seriously their report was being taken and to enable discussion. Telephone hotlines were not seen as appropriate for a non-emergency concerns.
The project report makes a sequence of recommendations, including making the reporting process local and personal and the developing of support mechanisms for people who make reports.
“It’s almost like safeguarding, so that people can share concerns and that there will be a response that helps the people they are concerned about, rather than an immediate criminal investigation, particularly if it is further down the line that a terrorist act is going to happen,” said Professor Thomas.
“It is important there is a response that’s more about welfare, safeguarding and counselling for both the person and the people doing the reporting.”
Professor Thomas and colleagues are due to visit Ottawa to hold talks with government officials and academics to discuss carrying out a similar research project in Canada. Colleagues in the USA are also taking an interest in the findings.