Terrorism offenders ‘enjoy high status’ in prison, QC’s official report says

Independent reviewer of terror laws says staffing cuts in England and Wales jails have exacerbated problem

Some terrorists in prison enjoy status and celebrity among their fellow inmates amid a culture of fear and violence in jails in England and Wales that is being exacerbated by staffing cuts, an official review has concluded.

Jonathan Hall QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, found that a pecking order of terror offenders can develop, based on the notoriety or charm of an extremist prisoner that means they may be held in high esteem by fellow inmates.

“For some prisoners terrorism offences amount to a glamorous blow against the authorities, untainted by grubby personal motives and serving a wider purpose, giving them a distinctly heroic profile,” Hall said.

Other prisoners may be drawn to some terror inmates by their “personal charm” or they may attracted to Islamist extremism but doubt the sincerity of the prison imam and are seeking what they feel is “a more authoritative version of the faith”.

Some terror offenders may be seen as lending “credibility” to pre-existing groups in the prison.

The review adds: “The fact that [terrorism] offenders are welcomed, rather than ostracised like paedophiles, is striking in itself, and illustrates the scale of the task in seeking to rehabilitate [terrorism] offenders and persuade them against further terrorist activity, when they are simultaneously enjoying a high status because of their previous offences.”

Hall, who carried out a review of terrorist activity in jails in England and Wales, said this was happening in a “fearful” prison environment where violence was increasing and staff numbers had dramatically diminished over time.

The review said the number of frontline operational prison staff was cut by 26% between 2010 and 2017. Officials say staff went from being “confident and in charge” to “fire-fighting”. Relationships between staff and prisoners deteriorated and everything became a “fight”.

Among the examples of “Islamist gang-type activity” Hall identified was the case of Usman Khan, who stabbed two people to death during the 2019 London Bridge attack while out on licence following an earlier terror conviction. Hall said he tried to make connections with the notorious hate preacher Abu Hamza when they were both in prison.

The review said Khan had “admitted that whilst he was in prison he tried to ‘gain sort of points’ with the terrorist Abu Hamza” by the language he used to refer to non-Muslims to “prove his extremist credentials”.

It also said that “Sudesh Amman, who went on to commit the Streatham attack, considered that he had celebrity status at HMP Belmarsh on account of his terrorist conviction”.

He was automatically released from Belmarsh jail, halfway through his 40-month sentence for obtaining and distributing material used for terrorist purposes.

Amman was shot dead by armed undercover officers after he stole a knife from a hardware shop and began randomly stabbing members of the public on Streatham High Road, south London, on 2 February 2020.

The review added: “It is impossible to avoid the issue of whether increased attention to Islamist groups will lead to Muslim prisoners feeling unfairly singled out when they association with other Muslims. That is clearly a possibility, and an outcome that officials will have to work hard to avoid. Officials should be curious, open-minded, prepared to challenge, listen and explain.”

 

theguardian.com

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