Three young people from a wide range of backgrounds have received lengthy prison sentences this week, perhaps I should say four, as one small baby was involved. Good riddance many people will say in reaction to lively headlines.
Sudesh Amman, 18, a former maths and science student at North West London College, is going to prison for three and a half years. At his trial the court heard that he fantasised about carrying out a terror attack and discussed using a knife and acid. He posted al Qaida propaganda on a WhatsApp group, kept manuals on bomb making, knife fighting and close combat, and owned an air gun, a black flag and a combat knife.
The prosecution said that his interest in Islamic extremism was more than ‘a mere immature fascination with the taboo and with graphic violence.’ He has, ‘sincerely held ideological beliefs which motivate him to collect terrorist material.’
Head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, Alex Boon, said Amman’s ‘fascination with dying in the name of terrorism was clear in a notepad we recovered from his home.’
Amman holds terrifying ideas which scare us all but he is a teenager, who has not stabbed anyone or thrown any acid. He has broken the law now by disseminating terrorist literature but in terms of the way the trial was described by the prosecution and the media, he is now incarcerated at great public expense for his ideas.
How will prison change the dangerous ideology he follows? In September 2015 the government commissioned a review to assess the threat of Islamist Extremism (IE) in prison. It was submitted on 17 March 2016. It’s doubtful that much has changed since then.
The review found evidence that IE is a growing problem with increasing violent incidents. Inside Amman will be welcomed by a highly organised Muslim gang culture, violence, drug trafficking and criminality.
Those gangs are directed by offenders supporting ISIS. They make constant threats against staff and other prisoners. Charismatic IE prisoners acting as self-styled ‘emirs’ exert a controlling and radicalising influence on other Muslim prisoners. There’s aggressive encouragement of conversions to Islam.
He’ll enjoy unsupervised collective worship, including Friday Prayers where he’ll witness pressure on staff to leave the prayer room. He’ll be able to avoid body searches by claiming that his Islamic dress is religious, he’ll have free access to extremist literature in chaplaincy libraries and from other prisoners; he’ll meet scared tame prison Imams and will certainly never meet a Christian chaplain or anyone who will challenge his ideas or explore why he has found an outlet in imaginary violence.
The report noted an increasing and disproportionate number of Muslims within our prisons, which accords with their message about the victimisation of Muslims.
IE prisoners even manage to engineer segregation by landing, wing, or even by prison so Amman is unlikely to ever meet Adam Thomas, 22, who received a six and a half-years this week, for belonging to National Action, a banned right-wing group. A longer sentence than that given this week to businessman John Broadhurst, for the manslaughter of his girlfriend Natalie Connolly.
Thomas scared his neighbours by firing his cross-bow at a tree. Unlike other members of the UK underclass, he did not fire it at a human, a cat, a swan or even a squirrel. Like Amman, Thomas and his Portuguese girl- friend, Claudia Patatas, the mother of their baby, named Adolf Hitler, have some terrible ideas. But their ideology is almost laughable, like something from a novel by Conrad. Resting on swastika scatter cushions they planned to overthrow British society, depose the Queen, take over the army and install a new Third Reich.
Judge Melbourne Inman told Patatas, who owned a swastika shaped pastry cutter, that she was, ‘You acted together in all you thought, said and did, in the naming of your son and the disturbing photographs of your child, surrounded by symbols of the Ku Klux Klan.’
Sentencing their comrade Darren Fletcher to five years, he said, ‘The depth of your racism is evidenced by how you have been able to groom your own child. On your own evidence, you have been seeking to indoctrinate your own child in these vile beliefs.’
Three ‘vulnerable,’ people, four if you include baby Adolf, now incarcerated in the care system, have been sentenced for ideas; Amman was apprehended after he sent a video to a gay-activist, and the National Action group have been convicted for their ‘violent racist beliefs.’
Since 2000 we’ve had the Anti-Terrorism Act which aims to prevent crime, and the increasing influence of the idea of ‘Criminal conduct’ a wrong against the whole community, rather than just the private individual. Disturbingly, the public, press, including its liberal wing and even prison reform groups seem to accept this wider interpretation of the law and use of prison as normal and acceptable.
The public may choose to ignore the implications of imprisoning people up for their ‘vile beliefs.’ They might think it rational to convict teenagers on the basis of their diaries and note-books, and even for uneducated people giving their children daft names, but if no solutions to this new problem of ‘thought crime’ are found apart from jail, that public will have to foot a huge bill. We should shelve HS2 immediately as the cost of the penal building programme will nearly bankrupt the state, and rather like the Third Reich we are going to see its intimidating institutions everywhere.