Prevent Case Studies

Below are some examples of how the Prevent duty might be implemented in different situations that could arise at a university.

Each case study contains some background information, suggestions of actions we might take and a reminder of the duty of care. The case studies aim to demonstrate what factors might need to be considered with regards to the Prevent duty.

What should you do?

The following case studies may be based on true to life situations, but are broadly fictional.

Case Study 1

Background

Ahmed is Palestinian and is in his first year of an MA in Political Science (Conflict and Resolution) having completed his undergraduate degree at your institution.

Joel, a student tutor/mentor in halls of residence, asks to see the Prevent Lead. Joel, who is a former policeman, says he has been “keeping an eye” on Ahmed and he is disturbed by what he has seen and heard. He says that Ahmed is frequently engaged in discussions with other residents in his hall in which he consistently criticises the Israeli government and questions the right of the state of Israel to exist.

Joel produces a couple of recordings on his work phone of discussions Ahmed has had with other students, mostly Muslim, in the kitchen of his hall of residence. Those discussions relate to the political situation in the Middle East and Ahmed is heard passionately explaining that the current excesses perpetrated by Isis are the result of the demonisation of the Muslim world by the West, particularly its response to 9/11, the wars waged by the West in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Joel shows a series of photographs on his work phone which he describes as “seditious” materials in Ahmed’s room. There are photographs of books and copies of articles from various publications which he has seen on Ahmed’s desk. Their titles include:

  • Is the Bullet an Option when the Ballot is Denied?
  • The Blood Sacrifice – a history of violent rebellions against British Colonialism
  • The Embryo of Terror – guerrilla war in Ireland in 1919 to 1921

The following week Ahmed published two articles in the SU magazine entitled “Oppression on the West Bank – when violence is an option”. It explores the question of whether violence can be justified as a means of effecting social change where communities are politically impotent and economically deprived. The thrust of the final paragraph is that it may be justified in some circumstances where the state institutions perpetuate oppression.

Joel reports that Ahmed is a “fundamentalist” Muslim, who prays several times a day. He has contributed to SU debates on abortion and same-sex marriage, both of which he opposes as morally wrong.

Joel says he is an extremist and an apologist for terrorism. He says he heard Ahmed say that he is a supporter of Fatah. He thinks he should be reported to the police and kicked out of University.

Ahmed is a vocal member of the group “Students for a Free Palestine”. Last night the group demonstrated outside of a venue which hosted the Israeli ambassador and bottles and stones were thrown at police. The Prevent Lead has been asked by the police to provide names of members of the group and any other information held on any of them. Joel has also been in touch with a police contact of his, who asks that the University keep a log of Ahmed’s activities and provide a copy of the recordings/photos provided by Joel.

How should the Prevent Lead respond?

  • The Prevent Lead should contact Joel’s line manager to raise concerns about the illegal recording of private conversations without permission and the taking of photographs in Ahmed’s room, if without Ahmed’s permission.
  • Fatah is not a prescribed organisation, while people might disagree with Fatah’s views and actions, it is not illegal to support them.
  • Similarly, Ahmed’s reported views on the West’s “demonisation” of the Muslim world is one that is shared by many and not an illegal view.
  • It is normal for religious Muslims to pray several times a day (download an information pack for the "Supporting Muslim Students" session here).
  • The argument that violence “may be justified in some circumstances where the state institutions perpetuate oppression” is not incitement to violence or indication of radicalisation. To disagree with his view in general or with regard to the West Bank in particular would be equally permissible.
  • Anyone seen to have committed a crime (e.g. attacking police) can be reported to the police. The University does not hold information about societies’ membership and could not share if it did, due to the Data Protection Act (there might be internal discussion to be had between the University and the students’ Union with regard to the event).
  • If the police require information, there are formal processes for this to be requested.
  • The publications Ahmed has appear to be related to his course.
  • Joel could and should have raised his concerns with his line manager and/or the Prevent Lead in the first instance. All concerns will be treated in confidence and with respect.

What is the institution’s duty of care?

  • Statutory duties, for example health and safety, equality, etc. all apply to every individual.
  • Ahmed – the duty is to ensure that Ahmed’s right to freedom of speech is upheld, within the law. He also has a right to privacy and not to be harassed for his beliefs.
  • Joel – the duty is to ensure that Joel is fully trained to provide appropriate support. He should be offered guidance on roles and boundaries and should have support from a line manager in place.

*with thanks to Geraldine Swanton, Shakespeare Martineau

Training and advice are available within the University of Sheffield.
https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/sss/safeguarding-overview/prevent

Case Study 2

Part 1

Someone you know outside of the University mentions that they have seen a web page hosted by a Geography student, Freddy Smith. The content includes anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, homophobic and racist material. Freddy has identified himself as a Christian student and has used the University logo on the web pages. The site also includes criticism of the University’s international agenda and commitment to diversity.

What should we do?

  • Check the website, to see if the claims are true.
  • Speak to a colleague, line manager, or student welfare contact within the department for advice.
  • You might also want to speak to someone in Central Welfare and Guidance, to make them aware of the situation.
  • We might consider checking whether or not materials constituted “hate speech” or are illegal, by talking to police.

What is the institution’s duty of care?

  • Statutory duties, for example health and safety, equality, etc. all apply to every individual.
  • Freddy – the duty of care is to ensure Freddy’s right to freedom of speech is upheld, within the law. The website could be seen as bringing the University into disrepute, by misrepresenting an individual’s views as those of the University. Freddy would need to be provided with information about student responsibilities in relation to the University brand, to make sure he understood how his actions might be in breach of this.


Part 2

A colleague mentions in passing that Freddy Smith has been causing disruption in class by saying controversial things, such as denying the Holocaust. Freddy has also started to appear to avoid non-white classmates. He has dyed his hair blonde and started wearing military-style clothing. Freddy has also been heard referring to himself as Aryan. Other students have started complaining about racist remarks that Freddy has made.

What should we do?

  • Speak to Freddy, or ask his personal tutor to speak to him.
  • Suggest that people challenge his views if they feel comfortable doing so.
  • Speak to someone in Central Welfare and Guidance for advice.
  • In this case, it might be appropriate to contact the Prevent Lead and explain your worries.

What is the institution’s duty of care?

  • Freddy – the duty of care is to ensure Freddy is aware of his responsibilities as a student. Clarify this with him, referring to his contract with the University, including the agreement to abide by the regulations. Find out if there are any welfare concerns that should be taken into consideration. Be clear that his behaviour is unacceptable and needs to change.
  • Other students in the class – all University students have the right to study/live in a safe environment, free from harassment. Students have the right to use harassment procedures to raise concerns formally, and should be made aware of this. Students also have the right to expect staff to uphold the University’s values. Students do not, however, have the right not to avoid controversial views and debate.


Part 3

You hear about more complaints involving Freddy and his conduct towards his fellow students. Freddy has refused to engage with his Achieve More project group because he is unhappy about the diverse group he was assigned to.

What should we do?

  • Refusal to engage could be a “progress of students” issue, leading to failure of the year.
  • Discuss the situation with the Student Conduct and Appeals Team.
  • Speak to someone in Central Welfare and Guidance for further advice.
  • The Prevent Lead should also be involved at this stage.

Outcome

Freddy was referred to the University’s Safeguarding Panel. They agreed to contact the Police Prevent Lead, who referred the case to Channel and the Adult Safeguarding Lead. It was decided that Freddy might benefit from having some discussions with a History lecturer, who specialised in the Holocaust. It was also recommended that he speak to the Christian Chaplain at the University about theological issues. The Chair of the panel also met with Freddy and discussed these options. Freddy engaged in the process after some initial resistance and went on to successfully complete his course, with no further reported issues.

*with thanks to the Leadership Foundation

Training and advice are available within the University of Sheffield.
https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/sss/safeguarding-overview/prevent

Case Study 3

Part 1

In week four of the semester, a residence welfare colleague from one of the student halls arranges to meet you. Concerns have been raised by a residence mentor about John Jones, a first year Islamic Studies student. John has not been engaging in any of the freshers’ activities in halls, he ensures that he goes to the dining room either very early or very late, when it is almost empty, his flatmates say that he often stays up late at night, praying, and only goes out to meet up with some local young people at an Islamic bookshop in the centre of the city.

1) What information might we ask for?

  • Is John attending his programme?
  • Has John engaged with his personal tutor or any other faculty members?
  • Has John engaged with the chaplaincy?
  • Are the any other circumstances, or information provided by John, that might explain his behaviour (such as mental health issues)?
  • Has anyone else raised concerns?
  • Does John seem happy in himself?

2) What further actions might we take?

  • Ask residence colleagues to encourage the mentor to continue to try to engage with John.
  • Ask residence colleagues to check that any relevant training has been completed by the mentor prior to the commencement of term.
  • Ask the personal tutor to meet with John.
  • Speak to Disability Services or the Academic department to see if there are any welfare provisions in place (be mindful that there may be disclosure issues).

3) What is the institution’s duty of care?

  • Statutory duties, for example health and safety, equality, etc. all apply to every individual.
  • John Jones – the duty of care is to ensure that the terms of access and support referred to in the student contract are operating with reasonable skill and care.
  • Residence mentor/colleagues – the duty is to ensure that mentors and staff are fully trained and equipped to provide the level of support promised in the student contract. Support from a line manager should also be in place.


Part 2

A few weeks later there are reports in the local paper that tensions are rising between the two Islamic groups and that the police have visited the Islamic bookshop that John visits, because of concerns raised about the nature of the material available there. They have arrested the owner for possession of material detailing how to make a bomb.

The next week a Muslim student society puts up posters on campus, and has a Facebook page inviting staff, students and the public to an “open debate” about the impact of the government’s Prevent duty and its impact on Muslims in the city, to be held in a lecture theatre in your department. One of the guest speakers is listed as John Jones, first year Islamic Studies student, and “leading campaigner”.

1) What information might we ask for?

In relation to the proposed public meeting:

  • Has the University’s External Speakers Policy been followed? (http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/cics/roombookings/rooms)
  • Who should review the risk assessment and ensure reasonably foreseeable risks have been addressed, so far as reasonably practicable?
  • Who are the other speakers?
  • Is there information to indicate that the content of any of the speeches “constitute extremist views that risk drawing people into terrorism or are shared by terrorist groups”?
  • If so, then how might you consider whether a balanced range of speakers is required or, if that would not fully mitigate the risk, whether permission to hold the meetings needs withdrawing?

2) What actions might reasonably be put in place regarding the proposed public meeting?

Consider the following:

  • Concerning the admission or exclusion of external media and communications personnel.
  • That tickets be issued for events which are open to the public.
  • That an adequate number of stewards/security staff are made available.
  • Concerning the relocation of the meeting to a specified venue.
  • If a University staff/student only event, possibility of admission by UCard only.
  • That University security staff be responsible for all security arrangements connected with the event.
  • Relating to the number of speakers, so as to ensure a balanced debate.

3) What is the institution’s duty of care to John Jones, the public attending the meeting, the Student’s Union/society and staff?

  • For all three groups of people the statutory duties, for example health and safety, equality, etc. all apply.
  • John Jones will be bound by the student contract (including University policies) so ensure that he is aware of the University’s policy on freedom of speech, and the legal parameters, that he cannot break the law, e.g. by inciting racial hatred or incitement to commit a criminal offence. Confirm that a specific person has authority to terminate the meeting is it seems as though the law may be broken. Also confirm that the same duties apply to both other speakers and attendees so that, within the law, his ability to speak freely will be upheld.
  • The fact that John is known to be a regular attendee at the bookshop is a cause for concern, particularly when coupled with other aspects of his recent behaviour. It may be appropriate to consider further referral (for example to the Prevent Lead). However, this will depend upon the full context, and the institution ensuring that it complies at all times with the Data Protection Act.
  • If members of the public are attending the meeting – to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism, and to have particular regard to freedom of speech. To take reasonable measures at a meeting to prevent discrimination, harassment and victimisation and promote the safety and good relations of visitors.
  • The Student’s Union is normally a separate legal entity from the University, and generally a registered charity. The Charity commission has issued guidance (www.gov.uk/government/publications/charities-and-terrorism). The Prevent guidance to higher education suggests that the Student’s Union should work closely with the University, sharing best practice.


Part 3

The meeting was public and only attracted 50 people. However, a member of staff who was present confirms to you that John Jones was advocating “direct action” to reject Prevent, and make the government repeal the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, and likening the Prevent duty to actions taken by the East German secret police, saying “all right minded people should protest against Prevent”.

Residence staff tell you that John has been behaving aggressively towards one of the PhD mentors, who has been trying to befriend John. He’s been threatening him, saying that he acts against the laws of Islam, and should be ashamed, and that one day he will be punished along with everyone at the University.

1) What is the institution’s duty of care to John Jones, the other students at the University, and the staff?

  • Opposition to Prevent per se is not extremist – the problem arises if his call is in danger of being regarded as an incitement to engage in violent acts or undertake other acts which oppose the rule of law.
  • Advocating a change in the law, and direct action to persuade people not to comply with the statutory obligations in the Prevent duty guidance for higher education institutions in England, could possibly be considered extremist. The government has defined extremism in the Prevent strategy as: “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces” (www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uplTheods/attachment_data/file/445977/3799_Revised_Prevent_Duty_Guidance_England_Wales_V2-Interactive.pdf).
  • Depending on the level of John’s threatening behaviour to the mentor, the matter would possibly warrant either the commencement of internal disciplinary processes, or, depending on the views of the mentor, a referral to the police.
  • The University owes a duty of care to its staff, and must take appropriate action to maintain their safety. Welfare services should be highlighted to the mentor, and he should be given the option to change his duties.


Conclusion

As always, these scenarios are limited in information and, often, when a duty of care arises, and the level of that duty of care, is heavily dependent on the facts in any given case. The key issue is to think through the potential risks of harm for any individual or group involved, and having documented those, put in place reasonable mitigation wherever possible. Ensure that staff are appropriately trained, and understand the limits of their authority and competency.


*from Leadership Foundation Training Materials

Training and advice are available within the University of Sheffield.
https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/sss/safeguarding-overview/prevent