Examination of Witnesses (Questions 266-297)|
Q266 Chair: Mr Pickering, Mr Spurr
and Mr Ali, thank you very much for coming in to give evidence
to us today. This is our ongoing inquiry into the roots of radicalism.
As you may know, on Monday, members of the Committee will be trying
to get into Belmarsh prison to see some of your people, and we
look forward to speaking to some of the inmates.
There has been criticism in the media that inmates
such as Abu Hamza are using the opportunity of being in prisons
to radicalise other prisoners through their sermons. Do you have
any evidence of that?
Michael Spurr: We have some evidence
of individual prisoners who may have attempted to say things or
have indicated views that could attract people to a radical cause.
We have a population in prison who are there because they are
criminal and who would see themselves as being alienated; therefore,
there is an issue about authority. They are therefore a vulnerable
population for radicalisation, but actually, we work very hard
to address that threat, as we work hard to address a whole range
of threats that we face in prisons. This is one of them, and one
we take seriously.
Q267 Chair: But how would you
know? Presumably, terrorist offenders will have the ability to
meet other terrorist offenders once inside prisons. How would
you know what they are saying to one another?
Michael Spurr: You cannot know
what everyone is saying to anyone else at every moment of the
day, but we have appropriate systems to gather intelligence. People
talk about what is going onnot just prisoners in direct
conversation with one another, but other prisoners who hear things
within an establishment. We gather intelligence. We try and identify
behaviours that indicate potential for radicalisation or for other
criminal behaviour within a prison. We encourage staff and have
supported them with awareness training of the types of behaviour,
language and material that might indicate there is a potential
risk. We expect them to identify those behaviours, to report them,
and then we look to manage the individuals. That is our approach.
Q268 Chair: You said in the Prison
Service Journal, "That is a major issue for us in terms
of how Muslims feel they are perceived
by society and how
they are managed in prison." Is it management of the whole
religion, when you talk about Muslims, or is it people you think
are particularly vulnerable to being influenced by radical preachers?
Michael Spurr: I think both issues
are important. We have 12% of the prison population who are Muslim.
We know from the thematic review undertaken by Her Majesty's inspectorate
of prisons in 2010 that they feel more alienated than the rest
of the population. That was what I was referring to. We are very
clear that faith is a positive within prison potentially for people
to change, and we support people of all faiths in practising their
Q269 Chair: Do you think it is
on the increase or decrease?
Michael Spurr: Is what on the
increase or decrease?
Chair: Radicalisation in prisons.
Michael Spurr: It is difficult
to say whether it is on the increase or decrease. Actual evidence
of people who have been radicalised in prison is very hard to
ascertain. We are managing the threat of that. I have no evidence
that it is on the increase. I am very conscious that there is
a genuine threat; that is why we take action to address that threat.
Q270 Nicola Blackwood: It would
be helpful for the Committee to understand in which prisons and
under what conditions terrorist prisoners are held; which offenders
are classed as international; which are Northern Ireland-related;
and which are domestic-related.
Michael Spurr: We hold terrorist
prisoners in a range of prisons. We risk-assess individuals rather
than determine that all terrorists will be held in a particular
prison or location. We risk-assess individuals and we manage them
with regard to their risk. The majority of those who are in prison
for terrorist-related activities are managed within the high-security
estate, because we recognise that their risk is significant. Our
policy in the high-security estate for the majority of prisoners
who require conditions of high security is to disperse them around
five high-security prisons. Terrorists are generally dispersed
and managed within that population.
However, if we had evidence of individual risk
or attempts to radicalise or create disorder in the establishment,
we would respond to that and we could manage individuals in tighter
security, for example, in periods of segregation or in close supervision
centres, which have particularly high levels of security. Some
individuals will be managed in such centres because they pose
particular threats to order or the operation of prisons, or the
potential for wider radicalisation. We look at individuals. You
will see in Belmarsh, if you go on Monday
Chair: We are going.
Michael Spurr: Indeed; I understand
that you are doing that. You will see that there are main prison
wings, and there are smaller units, and we manage people depending
on their risk, within the range of options available to us.
Q271 Nicola Blackwood: I wonder
if you could give us an example of how you would monitor an individual
terrorist prisoner, so that you would pick up on their potential
for radicalising other prisoners. Would you do spot checks? Would
you be checking the cell? What exactly would be the process that
you would go through?
Michael Spurr: There are a number
of things. There are some things that we would do routinely with
all prisoners, which would include cell searches and general searching
of individuals, in order to maintain the security of the establishment.
Those who are in prison for terrorist offences would be identified
and known to staff, because of the nature of their offences. We
expect staff to monitor their behaviour routinely when they are
operating on wings and engaging with prisoners. We expect them
to submit security information reports about anything they see
that could potentially indicate a concern. We would monitor on
that basis. We would review that intelligence at security meetings
and share that with police and then receive any intelligence that
they might have.
Q272 Nicola Blackwood: Is there
special guidance or a special procedure that you would use for
this? Is there some standard way in which you would ensure that
you protected the rest of the prison population, or do you just
put in place a specific procedure for each individual prisoner?
Michael Spurr: We have standard
procedures for monitoring intelligence and managing security,
which are applied differentially to the risk for individual prisoners.
We expect staff to report security information about a whole range
of things, such as drug use and risk of escape. We specifically
highlight extremism and radicalisation as something that we would
expect staff to report on.
Q273 Dr Huppert: To follow up
on that, what training do you give police officers on what signs
of radicalisation to identify? You will be aware that there has
been criticism of that by Peter Neumann and various others. What
signs do they look for?
Michael Spurr: Prison officers,
Dr Huppert: Yes.
Michael Spurr: We have some basic
awareness training when staff are first recruited. We offer some
basic awareness workshops to staff who are already in post. They
focus on a range of things around behaviours, presentation, how
prisoners present, how they challenge, how they might challengefor
example, imams, and how they operate. They are also looking at
how prisoners might indicate through their language a lack of
acceptance of accepted norms, how their attitude might be towardsif
we were looking at al-Qaeda related terrorismthe west,
or what their attitude is to general news items and what type
of material they might be quoting or looking at or seeking to
get access to.
We would focus on the types of relationships
that individuals were looking to foster. Are there particular
terrorism-related offenders, for example, who are singling out
the more vulnerable in the population and looking to get close
to them in a grooming style? What is their relationship with higher-end
criminal offenders? We ask staff to be conscious of that. We ask
them to look at the types of behaviour that have been expressed.
A lot of behaviour may well be criminal behaviour. There is criminal
behaviour in prisons, there are hierarchies, there are attempts
to subvert authority, and there are issues around how people gain
status in prison. We look at that behaviour and what the implications
of that behaviour are. Obviously, we also look at factual things,
such as levels of violence and, where violence occurs, what links
back to other prisoners in how the violence appears to have been
Q274 Dr Huppert: That is more
encouraging than I have seen it described elsewhere. The flip
side is what training prison officers get in counter-radicalisation
to try to deal with that. Do all officers get training and, if
so, what is it?
Michael Spurr: In terms of counter-radicalisation,
our premise is that one of the first things that we have to do
is address the negative impacts of prison, which might reinforce
alienation and anti-authority views. The whole decency agenda
for ustreating people fairly and equally, so as not to
alienate the Muslim population, for exampleis critical
in trying to counter someone who is vulnerable to an anti-authority
message. We start with that premise.
We have a whole range of things that we are
developing to tackle individuals and counter radical views. We
have been working on an extremist risk-guidance assessment, which
we have now established and shared with the police. It has been
used both externally and internally. It works through 22 risk
factors that we want to work on with people who are exhibiting
extremist views. We have developed interventions called healthy
identity interventionsthere is a foundation and a plus
levelwhich we have piloted and are now about to roll out
to all terrorist offenders over the next 12 months in custody
and the community. We are looking to adapt those interventions
to be used also with people who are at risk of becoming radicalised.
Q275 Dr Huppert: So this is for
terrorist offenders and people who may be at risk?
Michael Spurr: Yes.
Q276 Dr Huppert: Identified how?
Michael Spurr: For terrorist offenders,
through offence, and then for those who are at risk, through intelligence
and the engagement that we have with individual offenders within
establishments in the way that I have described.
Chair: Nicola Blackwood had a supplementary
to the previous question.
Q277 Nicola Blackwood: You mentioned
in an earlier answer that there was very little research into
radicalisation within prisons, but I wonder, from that research,
what conditions you felt led to radicalisation. Is it overcrowding
or certain social or psychological factors? What is your assessment
from your experience within the prison system? Mr Pickering or
Mr Ali may want to come in on that.
Michael Spurr: Yes, of course.
I do not think it is so much things like overcrowding. I would
refer back to my earlier answer. I do think it is about the potential
for individuals who are incarcerated and who therefore feel anti-authority
to have negative perceptions of society reinforced while they
are in prison and for people to be manipulated because they are
vulnerable in prison. They are looking for support from others.
They are looking in terms of their own safety. Prisons have always
had gang formations and attempts to operate and survive within
prisons. There is a prison dynamic around that, which could lead
to people who are already criminal moving towards accepting a
more radicalising philosophy. That is what I think the risk is.
In terms of evidence, what we have seen is that that makes prisons
a potential risk for radicalisation, and we need to counter that
in the way that we operate.
Q278 Chair: Yes. I think that
is the purpose of the inquiry.
Mr Ali, very few of the guards in prison would
speak Urdu or Arabic.
Ahtsham Ali: That is correct.
Q279 Chair: So how would they
pick up all this information and all the wonderful things that
Mr Spurr is talking about? How would they know what they were
Ahtsham Ali: Within the prison
population itself, Urdu or Arabic are not common languages. It
is mainly English, so the officers will pick that up.
Q280 Chair: Do you mean that Abu
Hamza would give his sermon in English? He would not give it in
Ahtsham Ali: Sorry?
Chair: Would Abu Hamza speak Arabic if
he was giving a sermon?
Ahtsham Ali: He would not be giving
a sermon in prison.
Q281 Chair: But if he was dealing
with other people?
Ahtsham Ali: He would probably
be speaking in Arabic, but when he speaks in Arabic most of the
congregation will not understand the Arabic. All our Muslim chaplains,
when they give their sermons, they will do so in English with
a little bit of Arabic that is part of the whole sermon anyway,
but the rest of the messagethe core messagewill
be in English and has to be, because English is the language of
the majority of the congregation.
Chair: Thank you. Mark Reckless.
Q282 Mark Reckless: How do prison
officers distinguish between the moderate Muslim convert and the
potentially radicalised individual?
Michael Spurr: That is obviously
something that is difficult and complex. It is one of the reasons
why we have actually promoted much greater involvement of imams
in the way we operate within prisons. As I said earlier, we absolutely
accept and see faith as something that is positive, and our aim
therefore is to start from that premise. We now have imams across
the estate who are able to support the staff and who are able
to support prisoners who are seeking faith. Many prisoners who
are Muslims in prison are Muslims because they are looking for
fellowship, for brotherhood, for safety, for belonging and all
of the things that bring people to faith. That is equally true
for Christians in prison as well. When you are at your lowest,
people seek ways to find a way of belonging, and that is true.
We are focused on the use of imams to support that and to support
staff to understand the faith and the differences between people
who might be moderate and exploring their faith and those who
are trying to drive unrealistic and unfair
Q283 Mark Reckless: I wonder if
I can ask Mr Ali, who may have been about to respond in any event,
whether he finds that his imams carry credibility with Muslimsconverted
or otherwisein prison, given the structure for their appointment
by prisons, albeit with your involvement and advice?
Ahtsham Ali: Yes, very much so.
One of the signs for a Muslim chaplain in prison to watch out
for is if a prisoner is refusing to pray behind him or whatever.
That could be an indicator that something is going on. He could
then explore it further and go to speak to him one to one. Your
earlier question about moderate Muslims is quite key. Moderate
according to whom? It might be officers on a wing. It is important
that we get this right, that we look at the signs for radicalisation
and that we do not confuse them with the indicators of good, pious
behaviour. Obviously, an officer on the wing might see someone
praying five times a day and think that that is extreme. Or they
might notice that someone's beard has lengthened. An undue pressure
from officers or more monitoring might lead that individual to
go more towards the radicalising philosophy. It is important to
make sure that officers know what to look for. If they do not
know, they should get expert help within the establishment from
the Muslim chaplain.
Richard Pickering: If I might
come in on that point. Just to reiterate the point that Ahtsham
was making, we try not to take a siloed approach to this. We talk
in terms of security departments working jointly with the multi-faith
chaplaincy. Answering your earlier question about how you distinguish
types of behaviour, we would make it understood that one of the
sources of advice would be the Muslim chaplain or, alternatively,
the seconded police officer. We have a range of sources of information
to get behind what is being reported.
Q284 Mark Reckless: What do you
say to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation
and Political Violence, which suggests that you have not provided
effective guidance on this issue?
Richard Pickering: I have discussed
Peter Neumann's book with him and that was right at its time.
It is now some time since Peter wrote that book and we have had
further conversations with him. I would not speak for him, but
what I would say is that since 2009-10 when he was doing the background
work for this and since 2010 when it was published, we have made
significant advances, not least in the areas of training and of
Chair: Thank you very much. Lorraine
Q285 Lorraine Fullbrook: Just
following on from that, I should like to ask a bit more about
the role of imams in prisons. Until about the last 10 years or
so, imams in prison were regarded with some suspicion. That changed,
and it was realised that imams could be extremely effective in
helping to combat radicalisation. How do you ensure that extremist
imams are not brought into prison roles?
Ahtsham Ali: All recruitment for
employed Muslim chaplains has to take place through myself. I
have to be present at every single recruitment board and I have
been present at every board for the past eight years since I have
been in post. Each individual has to have credible qualifications
through seminaries, although there are different seminaries. The
problem is that we do not have a set-up like the Anglican Church,
with ordination and so on. We have different mechanisms for getting
knowledgeable peopleimams. I check all the qualifications
of the individuals. I double check them as well. I have a database
of about 200 imams who currently work for the Prison Service,
both sessional and employed. Many of them will have been to the
same seminaries as the new candidate, so I double check with them
and ask, "Has this candidate been there and studied there?"
Following that, they have a rigorous extended interview system.
They give a sermon, which has to be in English. They do a role
play and then an interview. After, there is security vetting for
each chaplain who comes into prison, irrespective of faith. I
am confident that that particular aspect is well taken care of.
Q286 Lorraine Fullbrook: Thank
you, Mr Ali, that was very interesting. The International Centre
for the Study of Radicalisation has been referred to. It has been
suggested that imams should not be regarded as the panacea for
the problems of radicalisation in prison. Do you agree with that?
Ahtsham Ali: Yes, I do. There
are many factors. One of them is a theological issue, but there
are other factors. I am glad that the interventions we have look
at psychology, placement and various other factors.
Michael Spurr: That is absolutely
right. Imams are important in prisons for the wider issue of supporting
the Muslim faith. But imams alone are not the answer, from our
perspective, to dealing with people who are potentially vulnerable
to radicalisation. I have already described some of the other
measures that we take, which are absolutely equally important.
Q287 Lorraine Fullbrook: That really
brings me on to the wider range of Islamic schools of thought.
Do you think that if prisoners had more access to imams representing
those wider schools of thought, they would be less vulnerable
Ahtsham Ali: I do not think so.
I think that on the whole we are reasonably cohesive in terms
of denominational issues. Attendance at Friday prayers in some
establishments is as high as 95% of Muslim prisoners. On the whole,
the majority will consider an imam from a different denomination
to them as an imam. But yes, there are a few nuances and, as I
have said, one of the indicators is that you have a prisonerwe
have had this happenwho refuses to pray behind an imam.
These are very rare occasions, but we then go and find out what
the problem is, what the issues are, why not and so on. It might
be an issue, in some cases, of denominational difference, or it
might be that they say "You are Government imams", which
is, I think, the point you raised earlier.
Q288 Mr Winnick: Those responsible
for the atrocities of 7/7 and 9/11 in the States obviously believed
that they would go into paradise as a result of mass murder. How
far is it possible from a religious point of view to persuade
those who take their religion too seriouslyreligious fanatics
or near-fanatics in all religions to say that, far from
guaranteeing paradise, mass murder is a terrible sin? How far
is that possible from the Islamic religious stream?
Ahtsham Ali: It is very clear,
and it very clearly can be demonstrated. That is part of the remit
of the theological countering of this extremist narrative. You
do not go to paradise by doing a wrong, even if you, in your mind,
think it's a right, because justice is paramount. You cannot kill
an individualan innocent person. The issue about paradise
within the Islamic context and theologically is there in a battle
situationa legitimate, just war pursued and authorised
at state level. It is there, and what extremists do is pick at
it and pervert it to include what Osama bin Laden said in his
fatwa, that all American civilians are targets. He opened it up
to any innocent person being killed which, if you look classically,
is absolutely not there in our theology at all.
Q289 Mr Winnick: It is argued that part
of the difficulty is that the Saudi Arabian strand of Islam is
so conservative, rigid and dogmatic that it does, in an indirect
way if you like, help potential mass murderers. Do you agree?
Ahtsham Ali: I think that if you
look at the extremist or terrorist prisoners right across the
globe, many of them started off in that denominational background,
but I have to say that that denomination in itself is not extremist
in that sense. Salafist and Wahhabi scholars will equally argue
that the taking of an innocent life is absolutely against the
core of Islam. To what extent that denomination plays a role is
an interesting question, and sometimes I think to myself that
we need a plethora of denominational approaches. Some individuals
might be more easily persuaded by someone from a particular denomination
than someone else.
Chair: Thank you. Michael Ellis.
Q290 Michael Ellis: Gentlemen,
looking at Professor Neumann's report, and this follows on somewhat
from Mr Winnick's question that made reference to Saudi Arabia,
there are recommendations that prison services should be more
ambitious in promoting positive influences inside prison, and
also be more innovative in their approaches. I am referring now
to the practices in Egyptian prisons, and we have read something
about Saudi Arabian prisons, in terms of the positive influences
that they try to instil inside prison as a means of de-radicalisation.
Presumably, they are having to deal with greater numbers than
us within their prison system. I am not suggesting for a moment
that their prison system is flawless, because it certainly isn't.
But they have methods of deradicalising people that are innovative
and somewhat more ambitious than ours. Do you have any comment
to make about that?
Michael Spurr: I'll start; Mr
Pickering may want to say something else. The first thing is that
we are aware of the work that is being done in those countries;
indeed, we have looked at that very carefully.
Q291 Chair: Which countries?
Michael Spurr: In Saudi Arabia,
for example, and previously, Yemen and elsewhere. In terms of
our view in determining how to address the issues here, you've
got to look at the culture and the experience of people who are
in our prisons in England and Wales. That's what we've done. We've
developed interventions that reflect their experience to try to
address the whole issue about motivation to act in an extremist
way. I don't think that is any lack of ambition; I think it's
an appropriate and proper application of what is required to deal
with the issues that those individuals are posing here. So that's
what we've done. We've spent some time looking at and developing
what I think are internationally forward-leading programmes to
address motivation for extremism.
Q292 Michael Ellis: As far as
the innovative approach is concerned, there is the general rehabilitative
approach that we tend to adopt in English prisons in terms of
all criminal offending, in the form of education, work experience
and so on. Do you feelI invite any of you to commentthat
terrorist prisoners require a more tailored approach?
Chair: Mr Ali?
Michael Ellis: Mr Pickering was going
to say something.
Richard Pickering: By all means.
It has to be tailored to the individual in all circumstances.
I think it's difficult to talk in terms of a blanket approach.
Returning to your first question, absolutely
we understand the approaches that have been adopted in other jurisdictions
and Administrations. We have worked with international colleagues
in developing the packages that we think are appropriate to our
Q293 Michael Ellis: So you are
talking to others?
Richard Pickering: Yes, absolutely.
Again, in terms of whether they need a different sort of intervention
that is tailored to their specific requirements, yes, I think
we're beginning to develop those specific new interventions, which
are available not just necessarily to terrorist offenders but
to the people with the mindset that perhaps leads them to offend
in that fashion.
Michael Ellis: I think Mr Ali wanted
to come in.
Chair: Please be as brief as possible.
Ahtsham Ali: We have a programme
at the end of December in which we will look at sharing good practice.
We've got imams coming from different countries, organised by
the FCO and jointly with us, to share good practice and how they
Chair: Mr Michael has a final question.
Q294 Alun Michael: Yes. Obviously
there is the issue of the release, first of terrorist offenders
and secondly of people whom you believe might have been radicalised
during their time in prison. How does the prison service interact
with the probation service at the local level, in making the connections
both with families and the community to which people are returning?
I get the impression, from speaking to the local services, that
you have gone back to a much better link to community level in
recent times? Is that correct?
Michael Spurr: I think that that
is true. All the terrorist offenders would come out under multi-agency
protection panel arrangements, which, by their very nature, require
interaction between all the relevant agenciesthe police,
prison and probationon the release arrangements, the support
that the individual gets and the licence conditions that they
will operate under.
Q295 Alun Michael: Could I ask
Mr Ali in particular, is that a question of looking at the attitudes
of families in relation to people who have offended, and perhaps
the way in which they can be reintegrated?
Ahtsham Ali: It is, but that's
not my specialist area. Once they go past the prison gate and
into the community, the probation service
Q296 Alun Michael: Sure. We did
have one witness who suggested that perhaps when someone has offended,
it is a particular issue for Muslim families to reconnect.
Ahtsham Ali: Often, probation
officers and authorities will ask, what particular mosques individuals
can go to for help with family reintegration. I'll signpost them
to some imams. I know that there are various Muslim community
organisations that are helping reintegration.
Richard Pickering: On the second
part of your question, which was about the non-terrorist offenders
who have potentially been exposed to radicalising influences in
prison, that is part of the picture that would be shared with
the multi-agency public protection partners, so that movement
between prison and the community is as seamless as possible.
Q297 Chair: Mr Spurr, the Committee
will be visiting Belmarsh on Monday, as I said at the beginning.
We are told that it will take 45 minutes to get in. I hope that
it does not take 45 minutes to get out, because, since we cannot
bring the witnesses to the Committee, we would obviously like
to spend as much time as possible talking to some of the inmates
there. So anything that you can do as head of the service to make
our arrival and departure as smooth as possible would help. We
would like to leave at the end, by the way.
Michael Spurr: I will do my best.
We obviously have to go through appropriate security arrangements,
given the type of prison it is, but we will make it as swift as
we canboth in and out.
Chair: Indeed. We may well write to you,
because you have raised a number of points. Even though your evidence
has been very full, it still remains the case that the Home Secretary
is clear that radicalisation goes on and you are not clear whether
we are winning the battle against radicalisation, although you
have imaginative schemes by which you challenge what is going
on. We may well write to you again before the end of the inquiry.
Thank you very much for coming.