An 11-year-old primary school boy who told his class he wanted to give charity to the needy has been referred to Prevent after his teacher misheard the word “alms” for “arms”.
The teacher asked the boy and his classmates what they would do if they inherited a large amount of money. According to a legal challenge lodged by the boy’s parents against the school, he responded that he would “give alms to the oppressed”.
Apparently mishearing this for “give arms to the oppressed”, the teacher made a referral to Prevent, the controversial government counter-radicalisation programme.
Speaking to The Telegraph, the solicitor representing the boy’s parents, Attiq Malik, says the case exposes just how “dangerous” the Prevent programme can be: “You’ve got a child who has made a very good and positive comment about giving aid, alms, to the people who need it across the world.
“But because of [the young boy’s] race or religion, the teacher has interpreted it as being something completely opposite, and reported him to Prevent,” he said.
The schoolboy comes from a Muslim family.
The boy’s father, an engineer and company manager, and his mother, a dentist, are reported to be distraught as a result of the Prevent referral. His father told the Guardian that “this has had a massive impact on us as a family. My wife hasn’t slept properly since this happened".
The parents are worried the information will stay on their son’s file and could be passed on to the grammar school he is due to attend in September.
Mr Malik, director of Liberty Law Solicitors said: “The family are professionals. They have never had any interaction with any sort of law enforcement, and the mere idea that their child has been reported, that there is now data being held in some sort of “anti-terror” [database] somewhere, is truly frightening for them.”
The parents have commenced legal proceedings against the school, issuing a letter before action alleging that the teacher breached the Equality Act when referring their son to Prevent.
The police closed the case, concluding that the young boy showed no sign of radicalisation, extremist views or any threat to national security.
Mr Malik is adamant that the referral could still cause issues for the family, explaining that “every time a Prevent referral is made, it generates a record with the Home Office and various other intelligence agencies. And it’s very unfair that a child, who has done nothing wrong, is suddenly having data created about him which may not ever be deleted.
Mr Malik alleges that the Prevent referral states “lives with mum and dad – attends a local mosque”.
Speaking to The Guardian, the boy’s father said it was especially distressing that the school had not discussed the Prevent referral with the family before making it.
The family’s solicitor has called for Prevent to be scrapped, saying the system simply is not fit for purpose.
"Criminal legislation and safeguarding policies have always existed to protect the public and vulnerable members of our society. There is no need for a policy which is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut," he said.
The boy’s headteacher told The Guardian: "It would not be appropriate for me to comment publicly on individual children, but as a school, we do everything we can to keep all our pupils safe and well. We have a moral and legal responsibility to seek specialist advice from many different professionals as required."