One in eight terrorism suspects are children, the highest proportion on record, new Home Office figures have revealed. Thirteen per cent of those arrested in the year to March this year arrested under terrorism laws were aged under 18.
This rise, up from five per cent the previous year, came as the Home Office noted that they had seen a fall in the number of older people being arrested for terrorism offences.
Experts warned that the “worrying rise” in the number of arrests of under 18s was in part down to influence of far-Right extremists who are eschewing major social media platforms such as Facebook or Youtube and seeding extremism through newer ‘alt-tech’ platforms.
Statistics released by the Home Office continue the trend over the last year which in March saw a record proportion of terrorist inmates holding “extreme right wing views”, as well as the highest ever proportion of terrorists who identified as British.
The most recent figures show that of the 215 people in custody, 44 were described as “extreme right wing,” while the number of Islamic extremists made up 157, the lowest number in five years.
Earlier this year a 16-year-old boy from Cornwall became Britain’s youngest convicted terrorist after he admitted two offences of dissemination of terrorist documents and 10 of possession of terrorist material. He downloaded his first bombmaking manual at 13, before joining an online forum called Fascist Forge.
The court heard that the boy, who was the leader of a banned neo-Nazi terrorist organisation, worked from his grandmother’s house and recruited other members such as fellow teenager Paul Dunleavy, who was jailed last year for preparing a terrorist attack.
Milo Comerford, Head of Policy & Research on Counter Extremism at The Institute of Development Studies, said: “This is starting from a low base, and still only represents just over 20 annual arrests, but does speak to a concerning trend of an increasingly young demographic being targeted by extremist recruiters.
“This has been a particular pronounced trend within far-Right extremism, where in February we saw the youngest ever person sentenced for a terrorism offence in the UK, downloading a bomb-making manual at 13 and going on to become the leader of the UK arm of the neo-Nazi terrorist group Feuerkrieg Division.
“The Government’s newly released draft Online Safety Bill requires that tech companies take much stronger risk-based precautions to protect young people on their platforms, introducing a ‘duty of care’ for platforms to address harmful content which might seed polarisation or radicalisation among young people.
“However, as extremists are increasingly removed from the major social media platforms which this legislation targets, there remains a major challenge from smaller ‘alt-tech’ platforms, included encrypted-messenger apps such as Telegram, where Feuerkrieg Division channels recently resurfaced, targeting recruitment at young people in the US and Europe.”
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.