POTENTIAL right-wing extremists in Lancashire are to be spotlighted in a scheme originally set up to track would-be terrorists following the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks.
Police said the ground-breaking counter-terrorism programme Channel, which has so far concentrated at Islamic extremism, has been widened to take account of the rise in right-wing extremism in the county.
Parents, teachers, community leaders and police officers are referring children and young adults who they feel may be at risk of being radicalised by groups such as the English Defence League.
Officers who run the Channel project said they had redrafted programmes and guidance in response to the growth of right-wing organisations.
The move comes after Norway mass murderer Anders Behring Brevik was said to have been motivated by his extreme right-wing ideologies.
Since April’s high-profile EDL demonstration and counter-protest in Blackburn, in which 12 people were arrested, police said the project has received a number of referrals.
Channel is a national safeguarding initiative for individuals considered vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremists.
It is an early intervention strand of the Government’s counter-terrorism ‘Prevent’ strategy.
Insp Bilal Mulla, Lancashire’s Channel co-ordinator, said: “Channel is not a tool for spying.
"It is making people understand there may be vulnerable people who are targeted by those with radical views who had a different agenda.
“It is not about criminalising people, it is early intervention before radicalisation.
“Think about what happened in Norway. Do we really want that sort of thing to happen in Lancashire?”
Insp Mulla said he wanted to encourage people to refer any ‘signposts’ of right-wing or other types of extremism to his team.
“It is not much different to child sexual exploitation.
"It can happen online and people are ‘groomed’ into a certain belief and ideology.
“We are constantly seeking more referrals and we want people to understand what we do and what Channel is for.
"It is about us building trust and confidence and making sure the right messages get out.
“We put interventions in place, not investigations.
"If someone is not suited for the Channel project, we pass them on to other authorities such as Youth Offending, mental health practitioners, probation for example.
"Just because Channel doesn’t take them on, doesn’t mean there are not other interventions available.”
Since the EDL protest and counter-demonstration was held, Channel has had referrals from adults concerned about children being ‘radicalised’.
They said they had to update their literature to cater for the threat to community cohesion from right-wing groups.
Insp Mulla said: “We get referrals from a wide range of agencies and yes, more of these referrals are now for people associated with groups like the EDL.”
In one case, a teacher referred a pupil for a race hate crime.
His school is now working with the Channel team to look at his behaviour and his case will be put before the next panel later this month.
Insp Mulla said: “Teachers should be looking out for key indicators.
"Is the child not engaging with other communities? Are they writing concerning things in their exercise books like the 7/7 bombers did?
“We did have a number of individuals reported to us by our colleagues in the police after the EDL march.
“There were signs of vulnerability and it was right of the officers to flag it up.
“We spoke to their parents and dealt with it as low level criminality.”
The Channel programme has recently been streamlined to bring together experts from all agencies in the county to sit on one panel every two months, giving a more consistent approach to the referrals they assess from across Lancashire.
Lancashire’s counter-terrorism exercise ACT (All Communities Together) Now, which was the first of its kind in the country in 2008, has also seen a shift in emphasis to include right-wing extremism scenarios.
Community Cohesion Sgt Colin Dassow, who runs the courses, said: “Right-wing extremism is having a big influence on what we do.”
To contact Channel, call 01254 353638.