Detective Superintendent Nik Adams, the North East regional co-ordinator for the Government’s anti-radicalisation Prevent strategy, said there was a “real risk” the threat posed to the public by far-right extremists could grow “if left untapped and unchallenged”.
Last month, Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that National Action, a neo-Nazi and British nationalist youth movement which has been active in Yorkshire, would be the country’s first proscribed far-right group.
Det Supt Adams said: “That reflects the growing concern about the risks that extreme right-wing groups pose.”
He added: “Historically what you would see from the far-right was public disorder, public protest, that would have an impact on community cohesion, people’s sense of wellbeing and belonging.
“That sort of behaviour over time has become more concerning and when you layer on things like the murder of Jo Cox, for which Thomas Mair was convicted a few weeks ago, who was vocal in his extreme right-wing views, whilst we are not looking at intelligence suggesting we have got a growing number of Thomas Mairs, it is a concern that if left untapped and unchallenged, there is a real risk that could grow and we could see further incidents.”
His warning came as details emerged of efforts by Prevent officials to deter a 14-year-old West Yorkshire boy from being drawn into terrorism after he started expressing anti-Muslim views at school.
Det Supt Adams said this was the kind of work done by Prevent on a day-to-day basis, though his case differed from that of Mair, the white supremacist terrorist who murdered Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox in Birstall last summer.
He said: “When you look at some of the publicity around Thomas Mair, close family, friends, neighbours, were saying he hadn’t displayed any of those behaviours.
“Only they will know if that is completely true, but it is not just young people, everyone can be vulnerable. If you are lost in life and don’t feel you belong, don’t feel you have a valuable stake in society, you are vulnerable to an extremist coming and presenting you with an alternative, presenting you with ‘here is a group of people that will accept you, nurture you, and will encourage you, here are some good things you can do which you will receive praise for’, all of which as far as society is concerned are bad, harmful, dangerous things.”
Recent years have seen a series of far-right protests held across Yorkshire, meaning local police have to spend millions of pounds keeping the peace.
Between the start of 2012 and October 2016, South Yorkshire Piolice spent £4,672,083 on policing demonstrations by the far-right, with a single demonstration in Rotherham in September 2014 costing just over £1m.
In 2011, the Government’s Prevent strategy was refreshed to make it clear it is about all forms of radicalisation, not just Islamic extremism.
Simon Cole, police lead for the Prevent programme, said earlier in the year that while the main focus was Islamist extremism, he said there were big regional variations.
Concerns over far-right extremists make up half of all referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the East Midlands.
Police want to release more information about the number of referrals they receive “over time”, but say in general the proportion of Islamic vs far-Right referrals received was consistent with the demographic in the local area.