Dear Inspector / Minister,
As the Police and Crime Commissioner for Warwickshire (Local Policing Body), I am providing the following response to the Secretary of State for the Home Office, and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), in respect of the report ‘Counter Terrorism Joint Inspection – National security division and multi-agency arrangements for the management of terrorist offenders in the wake of terrorist attacks’, which was published on 20 July 2023. This action is pursuant to my obligations under Section 55(1) of the Police Act 1996.
Local Policing Body’s Comments
I note that the report consists of a joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation, HMICFRS, and HM Inspectorate of Prisons and I thank the agencies for their work and commitment to public safety in producing this report and its associated recommendations.
The foreword of the report is useful in framing the context, purpose, and findings of the inspection in identifying areas where further work is still required, but also by recognising where significant improvements have already been made: –
‘Terrorist attacks in 2019 and 2020 by known terrorist offenders who were subject to licence supervision in the community by the probation service brought into stark focus the terrorist risk being managed across prison and probation. Subsequent public inquests and independent reviews have all highlighted failings within statutory agencies. While risk cannot be eliminated in its entirety, the public has a right to expect that cases such as these will be managed with nothing less than the greatest degree of rigour and professionalism.
In response to the attacks, prison, police and probation were all tasked with stepping up their strategy to managing this cohort of offenders in a more intensive and enhanced way. The National Security Division (NSD) was created as a separate division of the Probation Service. Counter terrorism (CT) policing invested in the creation of Counter Terrorism Nominal Management (CTNM) on a national basis. Together with existing prison and probation services, it is now responsible for managing those convicted of terrorist offences or identified as posing the highest risk of potential terrorist activity, even if they have no related convictions.
There was significant financial investment to step up services, and we have found that the subsequent quality of case management has been reassuring. Our joint inspection has found that NSD, probation, police and prison services have provided a solid foundation on which to further develop the approach to managing counter terrorism cases collectively. They have implemented much of the learning from previous reviews. Prison governors and directors were clear about the terrorist risk posed in their establishments and were actively managing this. Leadership across the NSD and CTNM was strong, and there were clear lines of accountability, enhanced by national multi-agency governance arrangements.
Enhanced national standards have been implemented to ensure that terrorist offenders in the community are subject to additional oversight throughout their sentences. Additional resources, including polygraph examinations and access to psychologists, all enhance the assessment and management of cases. Multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA) and core groups act as the bedrock of multi-agency management within the NSD, allowing all professionals involved in a case to share expertise and give guidance. Prison, police and probation services were working together well and this was evidenced by the quality of casework found in this inspection.
While we are encouraged by what we have seen, the risk of further terrorist attacks has not abated. There is still work to be done. Although professionals are sharing information to ensure that informed assessment and management plans can be implemented, the recording and storing of information is disjointed at best. The NSD is not technologically equipped to receive or hold highly sensitive material, information is not routinely being shared with prison offender managers (POMs) and police are working across several IT systems. This all leads to a risk of intelligence falling through the gaps. There is not an up-to-date single operational framework to guide practitioners in managing these cases within custody and the community; this leads to risks of disparity in practice. All offending-related risks in these cases, not just terrorist behaviour, need to be considered and addressed. Domestic abuse checks were not routinely undertaken in all cases, and this requires attention. CT training for staff in prisons needs to be enhanced and POMs more involved in the management of terrorist risk within custody.
Nevertheless, the achievements of all agencies in laying promising foundations, at pace, have been impressive. We have jointly made several recommendations, which, if followed, should strengthen practice and address the gaps highlighted in this report.’
I also take note of the twenty-one recommendations made in the report. Whilst none of the recommendations are directly applicable to police forces or chief constables, the last three are for Counter-Terrorism Policing. Given that the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit (WMCTU) was visited as part of the inspection, coupled with the critical importance of this subject to public safety, I provide the following observations on these recommendations from the perspective of the activity that is taking place in the four forces of the West Midlands Region (Warwickshire / West Midlands / Staffordshire / West Mercia).
Recommendation 19: The senior national coordinator should review the Registered Terrorism Offender Assessment Framework process to ensure that it is fit for police led cases
It is encouraging to see that overall the inspection found that reasonable action had taken place to minimise the harm to others and that enhanced management of offenders has led to greater protection of the public. Where a terrorist offender had exited NSD management, the police had been comprehensive in their onward management of cases. However, CTNM had notified the inspectorate that at times the Registered Terrorism Offender Assessment Framework (RTOAF) was too broad and they felt additional assessments were often needed.
Recent changes to extremist activity and therefore police tactics have meant that the number of terrorist arrests is increasing. The introduction of the National Security Act 2023 will also result in more offenders being arrested under new legislation. These offenders will often receive shorter sentences and consequently are released quicker. In response to this new case load I am supportive of a review of the RTOAF to ensure it is fit for purpose and all forces should be informed of the outcome of this review in a timely fashion.
Recommendation 20: The senior national coordinator should work with the National Security Division and Joint Extremism Unit to develop and implement a risk assessment process for those tasked with visiting counter terrorism nominals in the community
The inspection found that there was not an agreed national process for the risk assessment of terrorist nominals once they have entered the community. This has led to disparities in the practice. The inspection also found that there was no formal risk assessment being undertaken before officers carry out home visits.
The safety of police officers should always be at the forefront of risk assessment processes and given that these nominals are often likely to carry some of the highest risk, it is not acceptable for officers to be at risk of violence due to lack of consistent risk assessment processes.
Risk assessments undoubtedly protect the safety of both officers and the community and therefore I am supportive of a focus on improving and streamlining the process for those officers visiting counter terrorism nominals in the community.
Recommendation 21: The Head of Interventions (Prevent and Nominal Management) should ensure that guidance is issued to regional Counter Terrorism Nominal Management teams that set out consistent use of ViSOR to support Counter Terrorism Nominal Management in the period before MAPPS is implemented and in any transition that may follow
Efficient and effective storing of information is vital to the success of managing offenders. ViSOR is the Violent and Sex Offender register which is a national database designed to hold information on dangerous and violent offenders, including terrorist offenders. However, the inspectorate found that the ViSOR system was “rarely used to any benefit” and that few staff are trained to use it.
The Multi-Agency Public Protection Service (MAPPS) is currently under development and this will replace ViSOR. However, there is no date for introduction or transition.
ViSOR must be used in a more effective and consistent way in order to manage counter terrorism cases, as the sharing and storing of information is central to police forces understanding the threat and risk of a nominal. I would welcome guidance for regional counter terrorism teams on the best way to use the ViSOR system and the subsequent MAPPS system once it is introduced. This will better consistency in the sharing of information and lead to a more holistic threat and risk picture for those managing nominals in our West Midlands Region.
Comments from the Chief Constable
The force notes the contents of the report, the recommendations made, and the comments from the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Comments from the local policing body on the CC’s comments.
Philip Seccombe TD
Police and Crime Commissioner