Student arrest highlights the importance of safeguarding

On Friday 21st October, armed police arrested a 19 year old man after a suspect package was left on the Jubilee Line at North Greenwich Station.

Described as a “loner”, the man has since been named as Damon Smith, and had enrolled a few weeks earlier at London Metropolitan University.

Smith was shot with a Taser as he walked on Holloway Road, North London, close to the London Met campus, and was later “arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation and instigation of terrorism acts”.

On Saturday, police evacuated a home in Newton Abbott, Devon after finding an item they deemed suspicious. The item was found to have “no viable threat”.

Police have since been given until Friday 28th October to question Smith, who remains in custody.

Reports have suggested that Smith had become “enamoured with Islamic State [IS]”, and had shown friends videos of IS executions, including the group burning people in cages.

He is also reported to have been questioned by counter-terrorism police in the past over his use of the dark web to access such videos.

Friends and neighbours have also suggested that Smith had been bullied and struggled with learning difficulties, and that his mother had moved to London with him.

While there is no evidence Smith was radicalised or showed signs of changing behaviour in his early weeks at university, this case highlights the vulnerability of some young people as they start higher education.

Even if they do not subscribe to a terrorist group’s ideology, fascination with their methods could well leave them at risk of radicalisation, or more likely to emulate the tactics of militant groups.

The vital safeguarding provisions put in place as part of the Prevent duty can help identify individuals who may be at risk of developing violent behaviour, and the more staff that are given the necessary knowledge and skills the better.

At its heart, the Prevent duty is about identifying vulnerable people before they harm themselves or others, providing support before criminal investigations need to begin.

Once someone has attempted to plant an explosive device on a tube train, regardless of viability, it may be too late to provide that support.

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