Concern over fundraising tactics

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Published: Sunday 22nd February 2015 by The News Editor

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Police at the sharp end of the Government’s counter-radicalisation strategy believe Muslim communities are vulnerable to intimidating fundraising which may be supporting criminal or terrorist activity, according to a new report.

Officers in West Yorkshire told researchers how the religious injunction to give to charity within some communities in Bradford had left them open to questionable practices.

The concerns were raised as part of a wide-ranging research project which looked at the role of community policing in combating extremism and promoting the Government’s Prevent counter-radicalisation strategy.

The report, by extremism expert Hannah Stuart for the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, is based on interviews with officers from West Yorkshire Police and the North East Counter-Terrorism Unit between October and December last year.

As part of its conclusions, it said: ” Charitable fundraising and the promotion of safe giving is another key issue for the West Yorkshire Police.

“They recognise that the religious injunction to give to charity within Bradford’s Muslim communities can make them vulnerable not only to fundraising for criminal or terrorist intent but also to intimidating styles of fundraising which seek to take advantage of a widespread generous and permissive attitude towards giving.”

The report said West Yorkshire Police had seen a proliferation of Syria-related charities since the conflict in Syria started and a surge in fundraising around the conflict in Gaza last summer .

One contributing officer told the researchers: ” The trick is, on these streets which are always really busy, was to go to some of the main arterial routes, press the button on the pelican lights, stop all the traffic and then go down the line of traffic with a bucket… and literally stop all the traffic, and we had lots and lots and lots of them.”

The report said officers agreed “this style of fundraising could be intimidating”.

An officer told them: ” It led to an increase in tensions, because you either give or you don’t and some people said, ‘well actually I put some money in the collection in the bucket three cars back’, ‘Oh put some in, ‘No, no’, and then… not every time, but on occasions there was abuse, following, ‘well you blatantly support the Israelis’.”

Officers told the researchers how one heated incident, after a couple refused to give at the beginning of the Gaza crisis, was recorded as a hate crime.

One contributing officer told the team: ” Our team are out there, handing out leaflets, reminding people and saying, ‘look there are bogus charity collectors who are just villains putting it in their pocket, but also as part of that you need to be aware that people give and the money might not go to where you think, it might end up funding terrorism’.”

The researchers were also told there was a problem with unregulated collection pots in shops and cafes.

One officer said: “Unfortunately the council have limited resources and truthfully the charities people should be policing it, but how can they police the whole of the community here because there’s often an understanding within communities of not challenging or questioning when someone’s asking you for a donation, so criminality can unfortunately masquerade on that.”

The report said Bradford has not seen the Syria-related problems seen in others cities, like Cardiff or Portsmouth.

But the report said: “Despite this, the police remain concerned about the potential for individuals to graduate from charitable giving to joining an aid convoy – possibly inspired by images of suffering they see online or on television – and then find themselves involved or suspected of being involved in terrorism-related activity.”

The report – Community Policing and Preventing Extremism: Lessons from Bradford – looked in detail at how the police in the city contribute to and view the Prevent strategy.

It said the officers it interviewed stressed that the most important components of successful Prevent delivery are building sustainable community relations and “ensuring representative and practical engagement with local communities”.

The researchers described how officers stressed the importance of them taking an interest in “quality of life issues” in communities – like dog-fouling and parking problems – “rather than attempting to force a relationship in response to a Prevent-related issue”.

They also talked of the important of using “credible voices” in “responding to the ideological challenge of terrorism”. This means finding respected and credible local figures who can provide a challenge to extremist rhetoric.

But the report said one of the biggest current challenges for community poli cing was finding a consistent position in balancing freedom of speech and extremist messages, both online and in public situations like political protests.

Published: Sunday 22nd February 2015 by The News Editor

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