Record number of child terror arrests during lockdown after school shutdowns sparked by the Covid pandemic

  • 33 children were arrested by police in the year to June 2022 in a new record
  • It marked a ‘concerning’ increase of more than a third from last year’s figure 
  • It follows worries about at-risk children being radicalised during the pandemic
  • Counter terrorism bosses have blamed the ‘digital world’ for the rise in cases

A record number of children were arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offences in the past year, according to new figures released by the Home Office, as online ‘terrorist propaganda’ is blamed for the rise. 

Terror-related arrests increased overall by 11 percent over the past year, according to figures released today.

Counter terrorism bosses are ‘most concerned’ after police arrested a record-breaking 33 children in the 12 months to June 2022, up just over a third on last year’s 24.

Of the 203 total arrests for terror-related offences, more than one in seven were of a child under 18. 

Counter Terrorism Policing’s acting senior national co-ordinator, Commander Richard Smith blamed ‘the digital world’ for the rise, saying children are being increasingly exposed to online extremists. 

It follows the closure of schools and an increasing reliance on online platforms over the last two years due to the coronavirus pandemic – which experts said at the time could pose a risk to children vulnerable to radicalisation.

Counter Terrorism Policing’s acting senior national co-ordinator, Commander Richard Smith blamed online extremism for the rise in children suspected of terror offences

Then-security minister Damian Hinds said coronavirus may have contributed to a rise in terrorist threats.

‘Clearly, logically, when you have more people who are spending more time in their bedrooms at their computer…you are going to get a growth in that tiny proportion of people for whom that is a dark journey.

‘And as you know, on the internet, if you start to make those kind of downward spirals, you can quickly accelerate with the material that you come across and the other people that you can come into contact with,’ Mr Hinds told the The Daily Telegraph.

There were also concerns over the pandemic’s impact on counter-terrorism programmes such as Prevent, which were initially shut down or stopped from being held face-to-face. 

This year’s number amounted to 16 percent of all those arrested being children – but the most common demographic remains men over 30 (41 percent). 

In the same period, seven children under 18 were charged with a terrorism-related offence and four were convicted. 

Police forces in the UK arrested 203 people for terrorism-related activity in the year ending June 30 2022 – 20 more than in the previous 12-month period. 

Of the people arrested, 94 were released under investigation, while 50 were released without being charged. 

As of Thursday, some 49 suspects had been charged, and 10 faced alternative action, including being cautioned or recalled to prison. 

As in previous years, most suspects were male and British, with only five of the 203 people arrested being women. 

Some 75% of them were British or British dual nationals. 

As of Thursday, 66 people had been tried in court for terrorism-related offences, with high levels of conviction, at 88 percent. 

The number of people subjected to stop and searches by the Metropolitan Police under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has also dropped by 12% over the past year. 

Some 396 people were searched by the force in the year up to June 30, compared with 452 in the 12 months prior. 

Of the latest searches, 30 (8%) resulted in an arrest – two percentage points lower than in the previous year when 47 people were arrested (10%). 

Since 2019, the Met has gradually been decreasing the number of stop and searches carried out. In this year, some 699 were conducted by the force over a 12-month period.  

Commander Smith, said: ‘Terrorism arrests across the UK are up 11% year-on-year and this reflects an uptick in our operational activity since the easing of restrictions linked to the pandemic.

‘The most concerning element of this, however, is the continued rise in the number of children who are being arrested for extremely serious terrorism offences.

‘The digital world is playing a big part in this, with terrorist content and propaganda unfortunately being accessible to young people online.

MP for Southend West Sir David Amess was killed in a terrorist attack in October 2021

‘We have specialist teams and officers working with other international law enforcement agencies and with the tech industry to combat this and terrorist material is continually being removed. But we also need the public – and parents in particular – to be aware of and alive to the dangers that online extremists and terrorists can pose to their children.

‘There is support available to anyone who might be heading down a path towards radicalisation, so I would urge those who may have concerns about somebody they know to act early and seek help and advice.

‘You can visit our website or you can call the dedicated support line, but please get in touch before it becomes too late. We would much rather be helping and giving young people support, than arresting them for serious terrorism offences.’

Since the release of last year’s figures in June 2021, the UK has seen two terror attacks – the murder of MP David Amess on October 15 2021 and a bombing outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital the following month.

David Amess’ killer was this year jailed for life after stabbing the MP to death during a constituency surgery.

Ali Harbi Ali was handed a rare whole life tariff after being convicted of murder and terrorism offences in just 18 minutes by jury.

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