Anti-fracking activists falsely accused of ‘grooming’ boy, 14 | World news


The authors of a report investigating extremism in Greater Manchester after the bombing at Manchester Arena falsely suggested that anti-fracking activists “groomed” a 14-year-old boy featured in a case study, the Guardian understands.

The 124-page report by the Greater Manchester preventing hateful extremism and promoting social cohesion commission included the story of a teenager referred to Channel, part of the government’s anti-extremist Prevent programme.

Calling him Aaron, the report described him as an A* pupil who “was referred to the Channel programme by his school due to concerns about his extreme beliefs in relation to the environment, specifically issues around fracking”.

It said he was targeted by local activists after signing an online petition, and that these approaches “became progressively more aggressive to the point where Aaron was on the periphery of engaging in criminal behaviour and frequently reported to the police as missing by his parents”.

But according to Greater Manchester police, the boy in question was never involved in the anti-fracking movement. He had been targeted by an entirely different group of activists, the force said. The detail was then changed without their knowledge, ostensibly to protect his real identity.

Rishi Shori, the chair of the commission, said: “The report contains a number of case studies where some details have been changed to protect the identities of those involved. This is standard practice where sensitive information is being used in a report.

“However, in one of these case studies – case study J – a factual detail has been altered which should not have been. The case study mistakenly said that concerns were raised around fracking. They were actually raised around a form of environmental extremism – but it had nothing to do with fracking.

“Although this change was made with the good intention of protecting the individual’s identity, ultimately it was the wrong thing to do. We apologise for this error. Because of a genuine fear that this vulnerable child could be identified, we cannot give more specific details about the type of extremism.”

Jenny Jones, the Green peer, initially said it was “incredibly alarming to see anti-fracking activism categorised by police in the same way as extremism”, and expressed her scepticism about the report’s veracity.

Informed of the fact that anti-fracking activists had never been involved with the boy, Lady Jones said: “To potentially drag the name of fracking activists through the mud like this is totally unacceptable. We should not stand by and watch while environmental campaigners are discredited in this way.

“Disguising the identity of a vulnerable young person and ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place is of course very important, but we must also make sure we are not wrongly implicating activists in this fashion.”

It was a “dreadful error”, an official at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) said on Monday, adding that the report would be corrected as soon as possible.

The GMCA accepted the disclaimer included in the report did not cover the alteration of such an important piece of information. It said: “All case studies used in this report are based on genuine case examples from Greater Manchester. Some details may have been changed in order to protect the identity(ies) of the person(s) involved.”

Tina Louise Rothery – one of the Lancashire Nanas, a collective of mothers and grandmothers fighting against fracking at Preston New Road near Blackpool – described the falsehood as “absolutely appalling”.

She said: “Our movement is 70% women over 50. As a grandmother fighting to protect the future for my grandchild I wouldn’t be anywhere near it if there was even a hint of extremism.”

She added: “The only dangerous thing we do for our cause is to lock ourselves together and lie in front of trucks coming to the fracking site, which makes us vulnerable, not extreme. This is appalling. It’s dark PR.”

The report was published at noon on Monday. It was commissioned by Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, after the 22 May attack last year. The authors, who included Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for the north-west, were tasked with considering “how to tackle hateful extremism, social exclusion and radicalisation across Greater Manchester”.

The case study claimed the boy was saved after the police sent an “abduction notice” to the main protagonist of the social media lobbying. Such notices prohibit an individual from making contact with a named child and a breach is a criminal offence.

The report suggested the lesson from Aaron’s case was that “learning from other crime types such as child sexual exploitation should be translated into other arenas”.



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