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Lockdown loneliness ‘could see more young people turn to extremism’

Written by on 21 December 2020

Lockdown loneliness could see more young people radicalised during the pandemic, with the amount of far-right material flagged to officials up more than 40%, police have warned.

So far this year, counter-terrorism investigators have been alerted to 3,000 pieces of suspected terrorist content – compared to 2,796 in 2019 – a rise of 7%.

But the number of referrals about extreme right-wing content has increased by 43% – from 134 in 2019 to 192 between 1 January and 20 November 2020.

More children and teenagers were arrested for terrorism offences this year, the data also shows.

Seventeen under-18s were arrested on terror offences for the year ending September 2020 – compared to 11 the year before, figures from the government’s Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) reveal.

Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Southworth, of the CTIRU, said the increases could be down to young people being isolated and spending more time online during the pandemic.

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Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu warned of a ‘perfect storm’

“There has been a slight shift during the pandemic, which may simply reflect people being at home more, and ultimately perhaps spending more time online,” he said.

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“Perhaps in some instances sadly people who have less people to speak to are perhaps recoursing to online media for greater quantities of their time because they’ve been stuck in self-isolation or lacking people to come into contact with.

“It could be a sad correlation really of the COVID-19 pandemic that we’ve not yet really fully realised.”

Between 1 January 2019 and 30 June 2020, around 1,500 children aged 15 and under were identified as being at risk of radicalisation as part of the government Prevent scheme.

Earlier this year, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu said lockdown was the “perfect storm” for radicalisation.

He described an increase in “nationalistic material” and “white supremacist literature” as “disturbing”.

The terrorist threat level in the UK was raised to severe this year, following a wave of terrorist attacks in France and Austria.

A website called ‘Act Early’ has also been set up by the government to encourage adults to report any signs a young person they know is being radicalised.