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Boy, 8, reported by UK school for saying he wanted to 'fight terrorists'

Father says he was summoned to meet teachers over 'comments made in relation to terrorism' by son after watching report on Syrian crisis
British Prime Minister David Cameron (R) faces calls for an inquiry into his government's counter-extremism programme in schools (AFP)

An eight-year-old boy in the UK was flagged up by his primary school to social services for saying that he wanted to fight terrorists, according to his parents.

Mark Atkinson, the boy’s father, told the Wirral Globe newspaper on Wednesday that he had been summoned to a meeting with the head teacher over the classroom remark, which came after the school in northern England had been visited by counter-terrorism police who told teachers to “look out for signs of radicalisation”.

The boy was also referred for assessment by the local council’s social care safeguarding service, which wrote to Atkinson telling him that it had information regarding “some comments made by your son in school in relation to terrorism”.

The letter also said it had been brought to its attention that the boy played a violent computer game; an allegation denied by his mother, Louise Atkinson.

“I think they should react to a young child's naive comments like adults and not jump to crazy conclusions. It is idiotic,” she said.

"He's an intelligent boy, I just don't understand how they can accuse him of being a terrorist. He was trying to help by saying he wanted to protect our country.”

The letter said officials had decided there was “no need for a social worker to become involved at this stage”, but told Atkinson to ensure his son no longer had access to violent games.

“A child who watches a lot of violent TV and plays violent computer games is practicing looking at the world as a dangerous place where violence and aggression are an appropriate response and this is not a healthy outlook,” the letter said.

The incident comes amid concerns about the extension last year of the government’s Prevent counter-extremism programme into schools and the introduction of a statutory duty requiring teachers to have "due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism".

Since then the number of under-18s referred to Channel, a police-led counter-radicalisation scheme for young people in England and Wales, has increased sharply, with 2,003 people placed in the programme last year compared with 663 in 2014, according to police figures.

Police statistics published in January showed 415 children under the age of 10 were referred to Channel between 2012 and 2015.

About two thirds of referrals last year related to so-called Islamist extremism.

Mark Atkinson said he had been approached by teachers at the St Michael & All Angels school in the Wirral after his son had allegedly said he wanted to fight terrorists after watching a television news report about the Syrian refugee crisis.

He said the school had been raising money for refugees and that in a class discussion the boy’s teacher had explained how the crisis had begun.

“The next day he went in to school and said he wanted to fight terrorists - then all of a sudden it's being implied by his teachers that he is one,” he said.

Prevent officers have been visiting schools in the northwest of England in recent days, with the Prevent team for Merseyside Police, which covers the Wirral, tweeting on 24 February that it had been "delivering the Prevent messages to schools".

St Michael & All Angels tweeted last September that police had visited the school to provide Prevent training for all staff.

Julia Hassall, director of children’s services at Wirral Council, said: “Because there is a child at the centre of these claims we cannot comment other than to say we will be looking into Mr Atkinson’s claims.

“We will be looking to get the parents, school, and a representative of the multi-agency safeguarding hub together so that we can resolve what has happened to the satisfaction of all concerned.

“The education and well-being of our pupils is paramount and will be the focus of our discussions.”

Prevent has been criticised by civil liberties campaigners and Muslim organisations because of concerns that it is discriminatory and amounts to a form of surveillance.

Education professionals have also complained about its extension into education and childcare settings ranging from nurseries to universities.

The National Union of Teachers, the country’s largest teaching union, said last year that Prevent was “causing significant nervousness and confusion among teachers” and risked “closing down the very opportunities where the classroom can be used to develop democracy and explore human rights”.

Bill Bolloten of the Education Not Surveillance campaign network told Middle East Eye: “This is yet another example of a young child and indeed also the child’s family being subjected to a distressing investigation when the child had not done anything wrong.

“There really does need to be an urgent review of the Prevent duty in schools before more children are harmed by this strategy.”

This week David Anderson, the UK's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, reiterated his call for an independent review of Prevent.

“Is Prevent working? Nobody really knows. Most things about Prevent are classified. Some people say that the laws are heavy handed or they are used for example by teachers in a way that unfairly targets Muslims,” Anderson said on BBC television.

“Others say that these stories are exaggerated by those whose interests it is to divide communities rather than unite them. I don’t have the power to review Prevent but in my view some person or body of people ought to have the power to do for Prevent what I do for the counter-terrorism laws.”

The UK parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has already said it will conduct an inquiry into the government’s counter-extremism strategy and its compliance with European human rights law.

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