High number of people with autism on Prevent scheme

Jonathan Hall QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has said that a ‘staggeringly high’ number of people with autism are referred to the government’s anti-radicalisation Prevent programme.

In a speech as part of the thinktank Bright Blue’s Ludgate lecture series online, Hall will say that autism and terrorism has not received much public attention due to ‘a very real and respectable fear that making any sort of link will lead to stigma’. In his view, the criminal justice outcome may not always be the right one for people with autism and needs scrutiny.

Hall believes that ‘autism plus’ appears to be a relevant factor in many cases, meaning that for people on the autistic spectrum who are drawn into terrorist violence there tends to be some additional factor such as an ‘unstable family background or some other cognitive difficulty’.

A recent case is that of 17-year-old Lloyd Gunton who declared himself an ISIS soldier, and was sentenced to life in prison for preparing a vehicle and knife attack in Cardiff in 2018. Another case is Jack Read who was jailed in 2019 for nearly seven years for planning to attack Durham synagogues.

Hall will say: “My understanding is that the incidents of autism and Prevent referrals are also staggeringly high. It is as if a social problem has been unearthed and fallen into lap of counter-terrorism professionals.

“From the point of view of counter-terrorism legislation, is the use of strong powers to detect and investigate suspected terrorism in children justified? I believe it is because of the potential risk to the general public. But is the criminal justice outcome the right one in all cases?

“Consider the offence of possession of material likely to be useful to a terrorist. Academics use the word remoteness to draw attention to the fact that having possession of something does not necessarily mean you are going to do something with it.

“What about autistic people who simply develop what is called a ‘special interest’ in this sort of material?”

The Ministry of Justice launched a review at the end of last year into how many offenders are affected by neurodivergent conditions, including autism, with a view of improving support in the criminal justice system.


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