Prevent duty must be scrapped: LEA admits discrimination after teachers call police over seven-year-old boy’s toy gun

27 January 2017

  • Seven- and five-year-old brothers were held in isolation from other children – before their mother was spoken to by uniformed police.
  • Liberty began legal action, arguing a white child would have been treated differently. 

A local education authority has admitted a Bedfordshire primary school discriminated against a seven-year-old boy and his little brother – by calling police because the children had been given plastic toy guns as presents.

Central Bedfordshire Council Local Education Authority (LEA) has admitted the school – whose teachers were attempting to act in accordance with the Government’s Prevent guidance – would not have called police if a white child had received a toy gun.

Following legal action by Liberty, the LEA also admitted the school breached the boys’ rights to a private and family life, freedom of religion and freedom of expression – protected under the Human Rights Act – and has agreed to overhaul its Prevent guidance in light of the case.

The Prevent duty puts a legal obligation on teachers, nursery workers, lecturers, social workers and others to report perceived signs of radicalisation – with severe consequences for failing to do so, but none for improper reports.

Liberty is calling for the repeal of the statutory duty – as well as a full, independent review of the wider Prevent strategy, which has been condemned by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), campaigners, faith groups and cross-party MPs as divisive, discriminatory and counter-productive.

Background

The incident took place in March 2016, when the seven-year-old boy – who cannot be named for legal reasons – told his teacher and classmates he and his five-year-old brother had received toy guns as presents from their parents.

Notes written by teachers make clear they understood the gifts were toy guns. Despite this, the school’s headteacher contacted Bedfordshire Police.

The school claimed the decision was based not just on the toy guns, but on the older brother’s “changing behaviour”. They claimed he had been speaking Arabic and said his father had taken him to a mosque.

This would not be an acceptable basis for a Prevent referral – but these claims were also untrue. Neither boy speaks Arabic and they have never been to a mosque. The boys’ father is a non-practising Muslim and their mother is a non-practising Hindu. Both parents are British. The school had never been asked to make any arrangements for the children due to any faith.

The young brothers were isolated from other pupils in the school library and detained for 90 minutes until police arrived. When their mother came to pick them up, she was told there had been an incident, police had been called, and she wasn’t allowed to see her children until they arrived.

On arrival, uniformed officers were walked directly through a busy event in the school hall attended by dozens of children and parents, and then walked back through the hall, followed by the two boys. After speaking to the children, officers spoke to the boys’ mother and agreed there was no matter to pursue.

Since the incident, the two brothers have become more clingy, guarded and reserved. The older brother has been overheard saying he could not be sure who he was able to trust, in case they call the police. Both have suffered nightmares.

What happened is widely known about in the family’s local community and the children had to change schools as they were too upset to return.

A damning indictment of Prevent

The boys’ mother, who cannot be named to protect the children’s anonymity, said: “To this day, I cannot fathom why a teacher who has known my family for years would suspect terrorist activities based upon a plastic toy gun. Our only distinguishing feature is the colour of our skin. I was utterly humiliated by this experience – but more importantly my sons were confused and terrified. They had to move schools, lost important friendships and – crucially – they lost trust in their teachers. They will carry the scars of this experience for some time yet.

“The sole reason they were singled out is the Prevent programme. I'm relieved the LEA has admitted the school were racist, but the Prevent duty needs to go. It legitimises discrimination against BAME children and – far from preventing terrorism, destroys the trust between teacher and pupil, stifling and alienating children who are already struggling in a climate of bigotry and fear.”

Debaleena Dasgupta, Liberty Legal Officer and solicitor for the children, said: “There were absolutely no grounds to believe the children were at risk of radicalisation. They fell foul of the Prevent duty purely based on the colour of their skin.

“It’s encouraging that this LEA recognised the school would never have called the police if a white child had received a toy gun, and has committed to improving its Prevent processes.

“But while the Government continues to compel teachers to view pupils with suspicion, we will continue to see incidents like this. Schools should be places of learning which encourage children to speak openly, not silence them. Prevent isn’t working. Ministers must learn the lessons of this case and revoke the Prevent duty in schools and subject the wider strategy to a full and independent review. To do anything else is to condone ongoing discrimination in our classrooms.”

  • The news comes ahead of a debate in the House of Commons on Conservative MP Lucy Allan’s Private Member’s Bill, which would remove the Prevent duty from nurseries and primary schools.

Contact: Liberty press office on 0207 378 3656 / 07973 831 128 / pressoffice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk.