Anti-terrorism policy 'fails to take account of sector views'

The Government is failing to engage with charities over how to prevent abuse by terrorists, sector policy experts have warned.

Umbrella groups have criticised a report from the Home Office and HM Treasury, Review of Safeguards to Protect the Charitable Sector from Terrorist Abuse, because they say it is not significantly different from the document released in May before the Government's consultation with the sector.

"This report does not respond to our concerns," said Martin Hearson, sector advocacy officer at overseas charity coalition Bond. "The Government has the right to disagree, but it has not even engaged with the sector's views. Reading the report, you would think there is an immense flow of terrorist abuse. There is a theoretical risk, and isolated cases have been dealt with using existing mechanisms."

The report includes plans to develop the Charity Commission's links with intelligence agencies (Third Sector Online, 20 December 2007). It highlights the risks of working in countries such as Palestine and Sri Lanka, with "complex political and operational circumstances".

It says: "It is the Government, law enforcement and intelligence agencies' assessment that while the scale of terrorist links to the charitable sector is extremely small in comparison to the size of the charitable sector, the risk of exploitation of charities is a significant aspect of the terrorist finance threat."

Terrorism experts from Scotland Yard met sector leaders last year to discuss the vulnerability of charities. But sector bodies remain sceptical. Mohammed Kroessin, senior policy adviser at Islamic Relief, said: "If we look at conviction rates, we do not see more Muslim charities than any other."

Umbrella group the NCVO was concerned that the report rejected calls for a 'good faith' defence to protect charities that have acted to mitigate risks but inadvertently fall foul. "The fear of criminalisation could deter legitimate humanitarian work," said Stuart Etherington, NCVO chief executive.

The Charity Commission is consulting on a counter-terrorism strategy drawn up in the light of Government policy.

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