By Halimah, CAGE Caseworker

During the last 2020 national lockdown I received an email from a young man – just turned 18 and on the brink of adult life. A top tier student with high aspirations of a career in medicine. The email was well written and explained that a police officer had called his father that morning requesting a meeting. This meeting would be to discuss a referral about the young man from within his Air Cadets in regards to “extremism” and his social media posts.

The officer had made enquiries with the young man’s school and Air Cadets and both had reported him as a bright and well-mannered young man. The officer had confirmed that the young man was actually not a concern for them and yet he insisted on a face to face meeting the very next day at the family home and as a matter of urgency.

It often amazes me how fear remains one of the most powerful drivers of human behaviour. The fear a parent has for their child’s safety, future and wellbeing being is one of the most potent forms and one that is too often exploited.

I spoke with the young man and his father at length that day. While the young man sought further information and clarification, his father was overcome with the fear of compromising his son’s bright future should he refuse to meet with police. He could not bring himself to agree to even putting a few questions to the officer about his contact.

After much convincing and reassurance both the father and son agreed that the first step was to ask for further clarification from the officer before any meeting and so as to help them make an informed decision to engage.

A number of simple questions were sent to the officer, asking about the nature of any referral, the obligation to meet, who would be present at any meeting and whether this contact was being made under the government’s PREVENT policy. The officer, in his response, ignored their questions, asking instead for another phone call and again for an urgent meeting. It was clear that the aim was to push the family to meet where there was no obligation on them to do so and again without any explanation as to the reasons.

I spent many hours trawling through reams of his old social media posts, looking for anything that might have triggered their interest or have been misinterpreted in ignorance. The young man hastily contacted his Air Cadets leader, his school’s headteacher and the local imam. None could understand what the issue could be and while the school and cadets advised to go ahead with the meeting anyway, a police officer that the family knew confirmed that he had no obligation to meet with the officer and that should he feel harassed he should formally complain.

During the course of their communications, the officer’s email signature confirmed what he had refused to – that he was in fact a PREVENT officer and this was by no means a criminal matter.

Engagement with PREVENT was absolutely voluntary and the young man’s resolve now grew, empowered by knowing his rights. He insisted that the officer answer his questions before any meeting would take place. The officer vehemently resisted and while claiming to appreciate the young man’s need for information and despite the COVID restrictions in place, he repeated his need to meet as soon as possible. No explanation was ever provided for this urgency.

The resolve of his parents ebbed – the young man was in the midst of medical interviews, on the cusp of his university admissions and the family was dealing with a recent death from COVID-19 complications.

In such situations, to give in is easier, however it is in these moments that we need to rely on our faith and trust in Allah for guidance and strength to overcome whatever comes our way. Our patience is in our perseverance and He is in charge of all our affairs. This is exactly what this young man did in resisting meeting with the officer.

Eighteen days after his initial call; two days after the officer’s final push for a meeting (in a park, in the school, in his home, anywhere!) and after receiving the following email from the young man: “I would not like to meet up and would like to ask that you stop contacting me”, the officer sent his most lengthy and comprehensive response yet. In it he stated that he would be closing off contact and confirming that there was never any concern in regard to extremism/extremist views. He claimed that the meeting was in fact for the purposes of seeking advice and providing support despite the fact that no support was requested. Notwithstanding that this was overdue and somewhat an unconvincing justification, the approach adopted by the officer was nonetheless completely inappropriate. Notably, he never did reveal those all elusive “social media posts”.

The distress of the family was finally over. Despite the emotional impact, frustration and questions that contact like this leaves behind, no test is without its lessons and gifts. Not only will those who have been affected leave it more empowered, more informed and more firm in their resolve but they will become a source of strength and reassurance for others.

Having been on the receiving end of such harassment, the young man and his family stood firm and didn’t give in. They knew their rights and knew there was no obligation to meet with PREVENT and they resisted the unjust intrusion from police.

As I watched this young man overcome his fear and that of his parents, he developed the courage and fortitude that he would need out in the world. I was reminded again how crucial it is for people to understand that any decision they make should be informed and guided by facts and sound advice.

There is no law against asking questions nor pushing for answers nor against making an effort to understand your rights. In fact the more you know the better off you will be – knowledge is power.


Image courtesy of Unsplash/brunus

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)