No certainty terror offenders can be 'cured', terrorism expert warns

2 January 2020, 08:42 | Updated: 2 January 2020, 08:51

The London Bridge attack occurred on November 29
The London Bridge attack occurred on November 29. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The expert behind the UK's main terrorist deradicalisation programme has said it's never certain terror offenders can be "cured."

Psychologist Christopher Dean said there is never a guarantee of success when it comes to changing the behaviours of those who have been radicalised, and often it comes down to who offenders mix with after treatment.

The Health Identity Intervention scheme involves the offender attending repeated sessions with a psychologist who encourages them to talk about their motivations, beliefs, identity and relationships with both other extremists and the rest of society.

Mr Dean spoke out after London Bridge killer Usman Khan, who took part in the deradicalisation programme, stabbed two people to death near London Bridge on 29 November.

Khan was a convicted terrorist who had been a member of an al Qaida-inspired group that plotted to blow up the London Stock Exchange and also set up a terror training camp.

The 28-year-old killed two people and injured three others in a knife rampage before being shot dead by police in November.

He had been released from prison on licence in December 2018, by which time Khan reportedly appeared to be responding to rehabilitation.

The second London Bridge attack killed  Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, at a prisoner rehabilitation event in Fishmongers' Hall in the City of London
The second London Bridge attack killed Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, at a prisoner rehabilitation event in Fishmongers' Hall in the City of London. Picture: PA

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Dean said some offenders who take part in his Healthy Identity Intervention scheme regress afterwards due to complex reasons such as who they mix with.

"The two main aims of healthy identity intervention are primarily to try and make individuals less willing or prepared to commit offences on behalf of a violent extremist group cause or ideology," he said.

"If we can reduce someone's relationship or identification with a particular group, cause or ideology, that in itself may have an impact on whether they're willing to offend or not."

Mr Dean said some offenders he worked with needed 20 or more sessions to show signs of positive change.

"We see some individuals who may have been part of a group for many years or have been invested or identified with the cause for many years. [Leaving that group] is an incredibly difficult thing to do," he said.

He added that there is no guarantee of success.

"I think we have to be very careful about ever saying that somebody no longer presents a risk of committing an offence. I don't think you can ever be sure," he said.

"We have to be very careful about saying someone has totally changed or has been cured."

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