Britain should learn from countries like Pakistan and Nigeria on how to deradicalise people groomed by extremist groups, according to one of the country’s leading prosecutors.
Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor who led some of the most high-profiles cases, said special schools to treat brainwashed youths and a programme to change their views should be considered.
He gave a talk earlier this month on tackling far-right extremism and groups like Daesh (Islamic State) at the Trust Women conference in London.
The event, organised by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, included speakers from Pakistan and Nigeria who work with boys and girls radicalised by the Taliban and the Boko Haram terrorist group.
In an interview with Eastern Eye, Afzal spoke about an upcoming BBC film based on him prosecuting members of the Rochdale child grooming gang and the toughest cases he has handled in his career.
On the issue of extremism, the former chief crown prosecutor for North West England said international expertise will be vital, with hundreds of Britons suspected to have joined Daesh in the past two years.
Afzal, now chief executive of the country’s police and crime commissioners, said: “For example, Feriha Peracha is director of a Pakistani charity that sets up schools for those who have been radicalised or about to be, and works to take them back into normality and away from harming themselves and others.
“Fatima Ekilu does the same thing in Nigeria with Boko Haram. We have potentially hundreds of people coming back from the Middle East.
“Most will be prosecuted if there’s enough evidence to show they’ve been involved in criminal activity. You can learn from how it’s operating in countries which have more extremists than we have in order to put that learning into practise.
“What better than learning from people who are dealing with it at the sharp end? Rehabilitation and integration of child soldiers, and asking questions about religion and interrogate the concepts they have been taught – you can’t put a price on that knowledge.”
Afzal joined the Crown Prosecution Service in 1991 and was the operational and policy lead for tackling child abuse and hate crime, including disability, violence against women and honour-based violence.
The lawyer revealed former EastEnders actor Ace Bhatti will play him in a film called Three Girls about how he brought members of the grooming gang in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, to justice.
“It was a tough call because it’s a tough case. I worked with them on the script, Ace spent a bit of time with me to understand how I worked on the case and my motivations,” Afzal said.
“I continue to speak on child abuse and work with groups protecting young people from abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice.
“Police investigated 70,000 abuse cases last year nationally. Most abuse, two thirds, takes place in families; the next largest group is online, then in institutions including places of worship, sports clubs, schools.
“The smallest in number but perhaps most high-profile are the street groomers as in Rochdale, Rotherham. The issue needs to continually get our attention.”
As one of the 13 chief crown prosecutors in England and Wales, Afzal was responsible for more than 100,000 prosecutions a year and managed 800 lawyers and paralegals.
He said the most difficult case he took on was the jailing of couple Ilyas and Tallat Ashar in Manchester in 2013 for trafficking a disabled woman from Pakistan and treating her as a slave.
Afzal explained: “They held captive a young Asian woman for a decade from the age of 10, forcing her to work for nothing and also being sexually abused by the father of the family.
“The victim had severe learning difficulties, was deaf and had major communication issues.
“We did everything we could to enable her to give evidence at the trial, including teaching her to communicate, and the convictions were hard fought.
He added: “I then pursued the family for their assets, and for the first time in a UK slavery case we got a court to order them to pay £100,000 to her to help her rebuild her life.”