Hampshire police have been going in to schools to talk to youngsters about the dangers of extremism. Reporter Ruth Scammell finds out what the children make of it and whether it’s a success.
Extremism is an issue that has become all too familiar in Portsmouth over the last year.
After four people from the city died in Syria fighting for Isil, it’s crucial that prevention work is carried out to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
And Hampshire police is carrying out that work by going into schools and colleges across the area.
They educate the students about what is happening and how to report any incidents of radical extremism where they live.
Steve Hawkins is an engagement officer for Hampshire Constabulary.
He spends time working in schools, talking to groups of children to explain about the dangers of terrorism and getting drawn to extremist groups.
In his sessions, he talks to the children about what is happening around the world and the dangers locally.
They are given a presentation and they then get the opportunity to ask questions about the issue.
He says: ‘There are lots of issues happening around the world.
‘Some of them have affected us directly in Portsmouth so we feel it’s important that the students are aware of those issues and how they can report any concerns they might have.
‘We talk to them about some historical terrorism incidents that have taken place.
‘We show a film clip of a couple of young men that get drawn into violent extremism and how easy it is for people to get drawn in.
‘The students in my mind have a good understanding of these issues.
‘They know what’s going on around the world and how it’s affecting them.
‘Some of them may be subject to some kind of racist acts from people here in the city so we talk to them about reporting those concerns to us as well.’
And Mr Hawkins said he gets a great response from students.
‘It’s overwhelmingly supportive of the work that we are trying to do across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
‘They don’t need to worry about reporting those concerns.
‘We will deal with them as sympathetically and as best we can.’
Mr Hawkins says he hopes that the students find the sessions useful.
‘Many people could be influenced by other people in their lives that could be led down that road to terrorism,’ he adds.
‘We give them the understanding of this issue around the world.
‘The police are here to safeguard them and the people in the UK in general.
‘If they are concerned about anyone in their lives they can report it to us in confidence and we will deal with it as best as we can.
Priory School in Southsea is one of those which has welcomed the police in to talk to the children there.
Headteacher James Humphries says: ‘Priory has always worked closely with the local police to help ensure that our pupils and families are safe.
‘When they got in touch with us about their Respect Programme we thought it was important that we were part of the programme alongside other local schools.
‘Although none of the local men who have been involved in activity in Syria came to Priory, it is a big local issue.
‘There is also local activity by other extremist groups in Portsmouth which we need children to be aware of.’
Mr Humphries adds it is vital that the youngsters know about the dangers of extremism.
‘Pupils learn about a whole range of extremist behaviour in the programme which includes activities in Europe targeting people of different ethnic groups, sexual orientation and political and religious viewpoints.
‘The programme really helps pupils understand the breadth of extremist behaviour beyond the current issues about Islamic radicalisation.
‘It focuses on the wide range of terrorist activity which has gone on in Britain and in other European countries.
‘For example the London bombings of July 7, the massacre of young people in Norway by a right-wing extremist, the bombing of a gay pub in London.
‘Pupils learn to understand the difference between holding points of view and beliefs and engaging in illegal activity.
‘They develop their awareness of how people, particularly young people, can be persuaded to become involved in illegal activity, through coercion, bullying, persuasion or naivety.
‘They see the impact of these actions on individuals and their families.
‘It’s important for all of us to engage young people in this kind of discussion and debate.
‘The line between holding beliefs and becoming involved in illegal activity is the focus, not the ideologies or beliefs themselves.’
Pupils praise experience
THE Year 10 students at Priory School in Southsea said they found the session interesting and useful.
Toby Phillips, 14, says: ‘It’s interesting and quite helpful at the moment.
‘We don’t want to get drawn to that in the future.
‘We have learnt what people are like and how bad extremism is nowadays.
‘It’s shocking with all the murders and terrorism and the amount of people who are dying from it that are our age. It’s ridiculous.’
Syedul Khan, 15, adds: ‘The police are doing a great job supporting awareness about terrorism.
‘It’s good to understand that terrorists come from different people, cultures and religions.
‘Children can be easily deceived by different things and they can have biased opinions but they should have an open mind about everything.’
Ria Olford, 14, says: ‘It was interesting because I didn’t know much about terrorism at first so I learnt quite a bit today. It’s important to know.
‘It happens everywhere and in Portsmouth it’s quite relevant because of people going out there.
‘I think young people need to know about it because we are the next generation. We need to encourage more generations to know about it and become more open-minded.’
Caitlin Holmes, 15, says: ‘I thought it was interesting because it wasn’t to make us scared, just to make us aware of what’s going on in the world.
‘It’s important because we are growing up in it.
‘It was shocking. It’s important that we know that it could happen anywhere and anyone could be an extremist.
‘It’s important not to call just one certain group of people terrorists. It could be anyone.’
Maariyaah Begum, 14, says: ‘It was a good experience.
‘Only recently has this started so it’s a good time because it’s coming from our city.
‘Anybody at any age could get drawn to it.
‘It was interesting to know that terrorism doesn’t just come from one religion or race, it’s all different backgrounds.’
POLICE say there is evidence to show that work to tackle extremism has been successful.
Superintendent Will Schofield, Portsmouth’s top officer, said under the scheme two youngsters have been stopped from becoming radicalised.
A huge effort under the counter-terror initiative called Prevent was launched after five young men travelled to Syria from Portsmouth calling themselves the Britani Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys in 2013.
Four have died fighting for Isil and one was jailed for terrorism offences.
Muhammad Mehdi Hassan, 19, a former pupil at St John’s College in Southsea, Manunur Roshid, 24, of Buckland, Muhammad Rahman, a 25-year-old former Primark worker and Ifthekar Jaman, 23, all died fighting in Syria.