Five military personnel have been referred to the UK Government’s counter-terrorism intervention programme but the Ministry of Defence has refused to say whether they are still serving in the armed forces.
We can also report that army recruits photographed alongside far right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, were warned following an internal investigation that they must not engage in any future political activity.
Last week we reported that the military is using counter-terrorism programmes specifically designed to identify soldiers at risk of radicalisation. Referring troops to the Prevent programme is part of a drive by the armed forces against far-right infiltration as officers work alongside police and Home Office teams to stop personnel joining neo-Nazi groups.
Concerns over links between the UK’s armed forces and far-right groups escalated last year after the conviction of Lance Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen, a white supremacist who was jailed for eight years. The Afghan veteran was found guilty of belonging to National Action, the banned neo-Nazi terror group with an offshoot called Scottish Dawn, also now proscribed.
How the army is trying to stop neo-Nazis from recruiting soldiers
The UK Government’s Prevent policy is a key part of its counter-terrorism strategy and places a duty on public bodies to “prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.Of 7318 referrals to the Prevent programme in 2017/18, 1312 related to right wing extremism. Five of those 1312 referrals were made by the military, the MoD said.
The Ferret asked if the five personnel were still serving but the MoD said it cannot comment on individual cases. A MoD spokesman added: “But in general, any extremist ideology is completely at odds with the values and standards of the military and anyone involved in extremist activities can expect to be discharged, as well as subject to appropriate action from the civilian authorities if they have broken the law, such as being a member of a prescribed organisation.
“Prevent is about recognising and safeguarding individuals who are vulnerable to being drawn into radicalisation, before they have entered into the criminal space. If individuals referred to Prevent comply with the necessary intervention, they can be re-educated and could continue to serve.”
The MoD issued a new Prevent policy in March 2019 with soldiers, sailors and airmen now encouraged to complete Home Office online training, which “raises awareness of Prevent and highlights the signs and symptoms of vulnerabilities that are indicative of radicalisation”.
Given so many recruits from one small group were enthusiastic about being photographed alongside Tommy Robinson, ex Nazi BNP member and violent racist, it seems unlikely that across the whole MoD there's only five extremists. Unite Against Fascism
The three services – army, navy, air force – are publishing their own policies to complement one issued by the MoD. The Home Office also said it does not comment on individual cases. But a spokesman added that being referred to Prevent is not a form of criminal sanction and would have no bearing on a person’s education or career prospects.
Once police and/or a Channel panel assess that vulnerabilities have been addressed sufficiently, and no concerns remain, no further intervention is required and the case is closed. Neither police nor a Channel panel – a multi-agency programme which is part of Prevent – would assess whether an individual is fit to serve in the armed forces, the Home Office explained.
With regards to the incident last year involving soldiers pictured with Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the MoD said: “Following this incident, the recruits were reminded of the Army’s values and standards and of their responsibilities as professional soldiers to uphold the Service’s apolitical position.”
However, Unite Against Fascism said: “Given so many recruits from one small group were enthusiastic about being photographed alongside Tommy Robinson, ex Nazi BNP member and violent racist, it seems unlikely that across the whole MoD there’s only five extremists.
“Again it shows that the MoD is dragging its heels dealing with a well known internal problem. The MoD seems to forget that it’s is the public that pay their wages, they should be more open and transparent to us about the extent of far right extremism in their ranks.”
A version of this story was published in the Sunday Post on 19 May 2019.