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Case of falsely accused children casts doubt over Prevent initiative


A child caught up in the false gun case needed counselling
A child caught up in the false gun case needed counselling

The mother of two children falsely accused of having possessed a gun at home has said that the colour of their skin made them especially vulnerable to Prevent policies.

The two boys, aged five and seven at the time, were questioned by uniformed police officers at their school after a teacher reported them over concerns they were being radicalised and had access to a firearm at home. One of the boys told his teacher he was given a toy gun as a gift.

The children were kept from their mother for two hours while they were being questioned by officers.

Despite the officers determining relatively quickly that there was no cause for concern, the mother of the two boys said they had both suffered trauma from the incident and the family has since sought counselling for their older son.

“My older son has got quite serious trust issues now,” she said. “Even though he’s in a new school now, he doesn’t trust his teacher and doesn’t trust his friends.

He was quite carefree before and quite happy. He’s only just started [counselling] but I think it’s helping so far.

“My younger son couldn’t really verbalise how he was feeling but he did have very dreadful nightmares that night and for several nights afterwards, which is really out of character for him.

“He said he dreamt that he and his siblings were taken away from the house and weren’t allowed to see me. It obviously had an impact on him.”

Following a legal challenge brought forward by the family, Central Bedfordshire council admitted that the incident was the result of racial discrimination and the human rights of the boys were breached due to the way the incident was handled, agreeing to pay damages to the family.

The mother said that while she doesn’t believe the Prevent legislation is inherently discriminatory, she wants to see the statutory duty it imposes on teachers and others repealed in order for the programme to return to its more “inclusive” roots.

“Teachers now feel that, on top of everything else they have to do, they now have to identify terrorists. That’s not in the spirit of the original policy.

“That’s what the Prevent legislation does; it puts everyone on notice to look out for this sort of behaviour and it makes teachers jump the gun – not just teachers but doctors and everyone else who has this statutory duty.

“I think it specifically picks on children from ethnic minority families, because that’s the face of terrorism.”

As a result of the ruling against the Central Bedfordshire council, the local education authority changed its guidance, which previously required teachers to contact authorities, to advise them to exercise greater caution.

“I shy away from saying it’s a victory, because at the end of the day it’s the boys who have suffered,” the mother said. “If the publicity influences just one local authority outside our own to make those kinds of changes, then I think the publicity has done its job.”