Media coverage of Home Office terrorism statistics mask the realities of counter-terror policing

2018-09-13T19:47:19+00:00 September 13th, 2018|Arrest, Conviction, Schedule 7|
  • Police formation

Today (13th September), the Home Office released its quarterly statistical update on the use of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000.

 

In summary:

 

  • 351 individuals were arrested for ‘terrorist-related activity’ between July 2017-June 2018
  • Of these arrests, 92 (26%) were charged for terrorism-related offences, and 41 have been convicted of such offences thus far.

 

184 (52%) were released without charge.

 

  • 176 (81%) of those in custody for terrorism-related offences currently are Muslim
  • 13,952 individuals were stopped under Schedule 7, a decline of 20% from the previous year
  • Of these, 13% resulted in detention

 

 

The media coverage of the update was led by the Independent announcing that the number of white suspected terrorists arrested ‘has overtaken those of Asian appearance for the first time in more than a decade’, and that the number of terror-related arrests had fallen 22% from the previous year.

 

It is worth engaging these claims, both for what they mask, as well as for what they reveal about the prevailing trends within British counter-terrorism.

 

Overall the number of arrests did indeed fall to 351 from 449 in the previous year, but as the report itself admits, this must be taken in the context of the attacks in 2017.


In the period April-June 2017, during which the Manchester bombing, London Bridge and Finsbury Park attacks occured, the number of arrests spiked over 50% to 155.

Of these, only 45 were charged, similar to the pre-attack figures.
This points to the climate of policing that surrounded the attacks, during which raids and mass arrests were regularly announced, helping to whip the public into hysteria, yet amounting to comparatively little in terms of prosecutions.

 

Compared to past years, the figure of 351 is still significantly higher than the annual mean average of 228 arrests between 2002-2017.

 

To put these announcements further into perspective, the statistics showed that 4 more white individuals were arrested than Asians over the period (133 vs 129), and less whites than non-whites overall (133 vs 218).

 

Proportionally, 133 individuals out of a white population of around 50 million equals 0.00027%.
Meanwhile 129 individuals out of an Asian population of around 4.3 million equals 0.003%.
Thus, even taking the announcement on face value, Asians are still 11 times more likely to be arrested under terrorism policing than whites this past year.
The continued absence of statistics by religion are also notable – Muslims are likely to be distributed across all ethnicities of those arrested, but the government has so far resisted calls to categorise by faith for full transparency.


The fact that a matter of single digits is deemed worthy of headlines shines a light on the underlying wisdom of British counter-terrorism – that it is accepted and commonsense fact that non-whites, and in particular Muslims, find themselves discriminated and at its sharp end.

 

However it also points to a wider trend by government and media recently to rehabilitate the image of counter-terrorism by making overtures to dealing with the far-right – both through policing and in Prevent. Counter-terror powers practised primarily on Muslims are now being expanded to other ‘problem populations’ – and just as with political violence before it, this only obscures the state’s role in giving rise to the far-right that they are now seeking to combat.

 

Much has been made of the government crackdown on the fascist group National Action, the first far-right group proscribed by the government under Terrorism legislation.
Accordingly, 16 individuals arrested and charged under terrorism legislation the last year were charged for ‘membership of a proscribed organisation’ – the most frequently cited principle offence.

 

The number of Schedule 7 stops in the last year totalled 13,952, continuing a decline from previous years.
Tellingly, the report accompanying the statistics noted that ‘There has been increased public scrutiny of [Schedule 7] in recent years, which may have driven a more targeted approach in its use.’ The ongoing decline in Schedule 7 stops should be seen, in part, as a testament to public campaigns against the power.

 

All of these should be considered in the current political context.

The government’s Counter-terrorism and Border Security Bill, which passed its Third Reading in Parliament this Tuesday, is proposing to increase the range of offences which can be considered for terrorism sentencing, extending the maximum sentence length for terrorist-related offences and introducing a new Schedule 7-type stop and search power.

 

Should the Bill become law, it is likely that we will see increases in arrests and charges in future statistical releases, as well as the unjustifiable scenario of individuals imprisoned longer for entirely non-violent charges.
We are also likely to witness an attempt to evade the scrutiny that Schedule 7 has earned by applying it as a separate power through the provisions in the Bill, as well as  further proclamations by the government of ‘taking the far-right threat seriously’.

 

All this will keep in motion the circular logic of counter-terrorism policing in Britain that has prevailed since the turn of the millenium – that increased counter-terror powers are needed to justify the existence of counter-terror powers.
This is a cycle which must be broken; CAGE reiterate our call for the scrapping of counter-terrorism laws and a fundamentally new approach to harm and safety in society to be developed.

 

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)