Project: Understanding the shift from vocal extremists to terror offenders in the UK

Understanding the shift from vocal extremists to terror offenders in the UK aims to identify the factors that catalyse or inhibit extremists shifting from vocal (non-violent) pre-offenders to violent post-offenders. It will improve the accuracy of risk forecasting and help identify new risk factors, as well as facilitate future research.

This project idea generated from preliminary results emerged from a research project conducted by Dr Elisa Orofino with Channel Panels across the UK between March and July 2021.

This research was supported by the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER) and led to relevant results showing important differences between the pre–offending and post-offending populations (e.g., age group, ideological affiliation) in the realm of terror and terror-related (TACT) offences:

  • Pre-offending population is characterized by underaged individuals, with mixed ideology where elements of the far-right are more prominent.
  • Post-offending population is mostly aged 30s and over and 70% of them presented an Islamist ideology.

This research also showed important differences in the ideological affiliation across different ages, the prominence of mental health issues in pre-offending population as well as self-harm in young individuals (mostly males aged 15-20). These differences suggest that people who are involved in Prevent de-radicalisation support programmes are a different population than the actual TACT offenders.

In order to shed light on what determines such important differences, Dr Orofino was successfully commissioned a research project by Accelerated Capability Environment (ACE)/Home Office, which consisted of two phases.

Building from the results of previous research at Channel Panels and using Busher and Holbrook and Macklin’s (2019) model identifying internal brakes preventing escalation from vocal (non-violent) to violent extremism (and terrorism), in phase 1 (April-July 2022), Dr Orofino and her research team scoped the relevant literature around the three main factors:

  1. Environmental factors: some structural factors (family, friendships, social status, local features) can work as triggers for individuals to adopt specific extremist ideologies.
  2. Mental health issues: mental health issues can play a role in the individual’s choice to offend.
  3. Co-occurrence with other offences: individuals who have already offended in other realms can then decide to engage in terror and terror-related offences.

In phase 2 (October 2022 - January 2023), Dr Orofino aims to test the theory by collecting relevant data from both the Prevent and the Prison environment. To do so, Dr Orofino and research team aim to:

  1. Conduct interviews with Prevent practitioners, and with charities working with people “at risk” of radicalization.
  2. Analyse official statistics from the Home Office.
  3. Explore the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) offenders' database, whose access is already granted to PIER for the current evaluation of MAPPA researchers are conducting.

Research value and outcomes

  • Identification of the determinants impacting the shift from vocal (non-violent) extremism to terrorism by innovatively applying Busher and Holbrook and Macklin’s (2019) theoretical model.
  • Identification of the factors that work as inhibitors of the internal brakes preventing escalation from vocal (non-violent) to terrorism. This will lead to a better risk forecasting and to the identification of new risk factors.
  • Building of a new dataset the on pre-and post-offending population within terror and terror-related offences, drawing on different sources that will help future research on the topic.