CONTEST is the United Kingdom'scounter-terrorism strategy. It was first developed by the Home Office in early 2003, and a revised version was made public in 2006. Further revisions were published on 24 March 2009, 11 July 2011 and June 2018. An Annual Report on the implementation of CONTEST was released in March 2010 and in April 2014. The aim of the strategy is "to reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from terrorism so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence." CONTEST is split into four work-streams that are known within the counter-terrorism community as the 'four Ps': Prevent, Pursue, Protect, and Prepare. The 'Prevent' strategy has provoked notable controversy.
The four Ps
The purpose of Prevent is to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. "Prevent" includes countering terrorist ideology and challenging those who promote it, supporting individuals who are especially vulnerable to becoming radicalised and working with sectors and institutions where the risk of radicalisation is assessed to be high. The deradicalisation programme is known as Channel. It is led by the police and liberal Muslim mentors who do not espouse any anti-Western violence. As of February 2015, all National Health Service staff are required to undergo basic Prevent Awareness Training, and schools have a statutory duty to have due regard for the prevention of terrorism. This 'duty' does not extend to teachers but enables schools to embed safeguard measures against radicalization within their standard safeguarding policies. The leader of the 2017 London Bridge attack and his brother was involved with Prevent. The perpetrator of the Parsons Green train bombing had been referred to Prevent.
The purpose of Pursue is to stop terrorist attacks by detecting, prosecuting, and disrupting those who plot to carry out attacks against the UK or its interests overseas.
The purpose of Protect is to strengthen protection against terrorist attacks in the UK or its interests overseas and thus reduce vulnerability. The work focuses on border security, the transport system, national infrastructure, and public places. The process works by first recognizing the threats and then identifying the measures to reduce risks.
The purpose of Prepare is to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack in an event whereby that attack cannot be stopped. "Prepare" includes bringing a terrorist attack to an end and increasing the U.K.'s resilience so the country can recover quickly in its aftermath.
The August 2018 strategy reportedly puts more focus on ways of prevention and how to best alert the public to terrorist threats. In an article written for The Observer, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that the strategy is "recognised by our allies to be world-leading in its wide-ranging nature, leaves us better prepared and strengthened in our ability to ensure all peace-loving people of this country can live normally, with confidence and free from fear."
The 'Prevent' strategy was criticised in 2009 by Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, as a domestic spying programme collecting intelligence about the beliefs of British Muslims not involved in criminal activity. The Communities and Local Government Committee were also critical of the Prevent programme in 2010, stating that it stigmatised and alienated Muslims the government wanted to work with. Prevent has been criticised as legitimising and reinforcing Islamophobia, and restricting freedom of expression for Muslims in the UK. At the National Union of Teachers' 2016 conference in Brighton, the union members voted overwhelmingly against the Prevent strategy. They supported its abolition, citing concerns over the implementation of the strategy and causing "suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staff room." In June 2016, the MPs Lucy Allan and Norman Lamb introduced a private member's bill to repeal provisions in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 where it requires staff to report possible signs of extremism or radicalization between primary and nursery school-aged children, following several high-profile cases where the provision was inappropriately used about the Prevent strategy. The Bill did not become law. In 2017, two brothers, aged seven and five, were paid damages after they were reported to the Prevent program after telling a teacher they had been given toy guns. The children had been kept from parents for two hours. After a legal challenge, the Central Bedfordshire council admitted the children's human rights were breached and they had been racially discriminated against. Prevent has also been accused of reducing academic freedom. In November 2018, the University of Reading highlighted the article Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution by Professor Norman Geras as potentially harmful. Students were instructed not to download the article on personal devices and not to leave the article where it could be visible "inadvertently or otherwise, by those who are not prepared to view it". In March 2019, the Court of Appeal found that the Prevent guidance on inviting controversial speakers at Universities was unlawfully unbalanced and must be rewritten. In January 2020, The Guardian reported that Extinction Rebellion, the climate emergency campaign group promoted by Greta Thunberg, had been wrongly included on an official list of extremist organisations whose members should be reported to the authorities. The South East Counter Terrorism Unit later said that after review, the document was being withdrawn. Amnesty International were highly critical of the error, and Extinction Rebellion said they were considering legal action.