A far right terrorist who became a muslim extremist behind bars has had his prison time extended in the first case of its kind since a spate of attacks by former inmates being deradicalised in the community.
The ‘model’ prisoner who befriended Streatham knifeman Sudesh Amman whilst in prison was previously handed a detention and training order for terrorism offences.
He had reached the point in his sentence where he should have gained automatic release but it was believed he was still a threat.
Prison officials said they received intelligence that the inmate known as X, poses a “high risk to the public” if he were to be released as he believes in extremist Islamic ideology.
There are also fears that he could have learned tricks from other prisoners to escape detection from the authorities.
Guards were concerned when he left his job inside to pray for his friend Sudesh Amman when he was shot dead after stabbing people in south London in February.
It is said he appeared upset by the death and “did not believe him to be a bad person”.
Prison psychologists also fear he fits the profile of a terrorist, saying he has a “grandiosity bordering on narcissism”, and likely to carry out an attack if it would hold him in esteem with a peer group that holds his extreme views.
Despite the government rushing through emergency legislation on February 28 to prevent the release of those they thought might still be dangerous, X was detained under a different law from 2002.
While that law was designed to be used for prisoners who show bad behaviour while incarcerated, this is believed to be the first time that it has been used to keep a model prisoner locked up.
At Westminster Magistrates Court, Rosemary Davidson, representing the Secretary of State, said: “What we have is the possibility of a high risk and highly vulnerable prisoner being released into a high risk environment.
“There is a pattern of three terrorist tragic offences in just three months, basically one a month, since late November.
“These are individuals who follow a common modus operandi.
“The programme’s purpose is about rehabilitation and reducing the risk of offending.
“This is an exceptional case and it is difficult to conceive of more unusual circumstances.
“An extension is necessary and important because while the interventions can be delivered in the community, the relationships will only be effective if they are working relationships before he is released.
“That is something that has to be done in custody.”
Prison officials feared he may carry out other terrorist attacks following the Fishmongers’ Hall attack in December 2019, the attempted murder of a prison officer at HMP Whitemoor in January, and the Streatham stabbings in February.
The governor in charge of the prison gave evidence to say X should stay in prison so more work could be done on rehabilitating him and reducing the risk of offending.
But while he is in a mentorship programme, the governor said he had concerns after X and the Streatham terrorist appeared to have regularly said hello to each other and may have met in Islamic classes with imams.
He said: “Our concern is that we see the speed of conversion to Islam while in prison, the dealings that he has had with some of the prisoners, and it mirrors the same ideology and risk factors as other former prisoners who have gone on to commit terrorism.”
He added: “We noticed a change in behaviour and reporting on the defendant in meetings with staff. The intelligence had come in after the Streatham attack.
“Our intelligence says he requested to leave work to pray for his friend on February 2.
“He appeared upset by the death of Sudesh Faraz Amman and did not believe him to be a bad person.”
The governor said while he had been a model prisoner, he fears he could be a high risk to the public on release.
He said: “We feel that due to the increased risk factors that more needs to change and we need to have more time to build up those relationships and guide the defendant in the right direction before we release him into the community.
“We hope to start influencing his thought patterns before he considers offending again.”
Richard Thomas, representing the prisoner, said: “There have been three terrorist attacks in the space of three months and that is not his fault.
“I understand it must be difficult for the prison system going through cuts to ensure every inmate is rehabilitated.
“There has been a huge amount of pressure on an overstretched system to keep terrorists behind bars.
“The danger is that while this was never intended before, by statute or by those involved in this case alone, it is inappropriate to seek out a longer sentence because the prison has not done the work.
“It goes against the purpose of the legislation and the guidance.
“Why not put all the resources of the state to make sure the training resources were put in place immediately and the work stepped up immediately?
“He has had two sessions with a mentor.
“They could move quickly now and move in the next few weeks to establish good relationships so that these good relationships are in place by the time he is out in the community.
“This application is premised that this is an extreme radical Muslim that poses grave threat and needs to remain in custody for an extra two months.
“The evidential basis is entirely lacking and it shouldn’t be considered at all.
“What should be considered that shows he has made progress, he has access to mainstream religious texts, and has displayed mainstream religious views.
“We have a well behaved prisoner who has turned to Islam and has engaged as best he can. He can do those courses and complete the training period.”
Ms Davidson denied the move to keep the teen imprisoned was a “kneejerk political reaction to Streatham”.
She said: “This decision was taken on its own facts and its own merits.
“This is an exceptional case, and the prison has not put all of its eggs into the extension basket.
“Typically the rehabilitation programme would only be done towards the end of the custodial sentence and they have brought that forward and would have done more sessions than usual by the midpoint.
“That is not enough. It’s not enough time.”
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said rules surrounding release dates were “dated” after not being updated since 2002.
She said: “I do not find myself bound by the guidance, this is an exceptional case.
“The guidance is not statutory. There is nothing in the act which prevents me from considering the risk to the public and the rehabilitation of X when considering the application.
“The guidance is dated and does not take into account the risks now posed by potentially radicalised young offenders.
“The section is silent as to how I should approach this decision but it seems to me that I should consider whether the order is necessary and proportionate in the particularly unusual circumstances in this case.
“X’s views have veered from one extreme to another, he has a deep seated psychological need to feel part of a group, there is the intelligence that he is a risk to the public and has been in contact with Sudesh Faraz (Amman).
“There is a very recent pattern of young men being released from custody committing terrorist offences before they are themselves killed.
“I bear in mind the principal aims of the justice system which is to prevent offending. I also must bear in mind the welfare of X.
“Having considered the three factors relied on by the Secretary of State including the intelligence I order that X’s release date be postponed to 18th May 2020.
“The order will prevent further offending and will focus on the rehabilitation of X.”
Speaking to the X, she added: “I’ve made a decision. I expect it will be appealed now but that will be for the defence to consider.
“It might not be the end of it. But for now, my decision is that you will be there until May 18.”
Under the latest legislation introduced on February 28, some prisoners have been referred to the parole board and some have had hearings that have been adjourned, but no cases have been concluded.
A Parole Board spokesman said: “The Parole Board has around 10 hearings listed for those convicted of terrorism offences over the next four months.
“These cases were already in the parole system prior to the enactment of the Terror Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act. All have yet to be concluded.
“We expect a further 20 to 30 cases to be referred to the Board as a result of the change in legislation.”