Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorates ‘reassured’ by progress of counter terrorism efforts in England and Wales

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation has led an inspection, alongside HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), and HM Inspectorate of Prisons – looking at the work of the Probation Service’s National Security Division (NSD) and multi-agency arrangements for the management of terrorist offenders in the wake of terrorist attacks.

In response to terrorist attacks in 2019 and 2020, by known terrorist offenders who were subject to licence supervision, the NSD was created as a separate division of the Probation Service, working alongside police Counter Terrorism Nominal Management (CTNM) arrangements. Together with existing prison and probation services, these bodies are responsible for managing those convicted of terrorist offences or suspected of potential terrorist activity, even if they have no related convictions.

What we found

This inspection looked at the management and progress of the strategy to supervise these offenders. It found:

  • NSD, probation, police and prison services worked well together and are approaching managing counter terrorism cases collectively
  • supervision within the community was robust overall, balancing rehabilitative needs with tight risk management
  • probation practitioners within NSD were well trained specialist officers, holding a small and restricted caseload, delivering high quality case assessment and supervision
  • terrorist offenders were subject to additional oversight throughout their sentences
  • the arrangements to protect others from harm from terrorist cases in custody were effective
  • there has been significant financial investment to improve services dealing with counter terrorism, and staffing levels were appropriate
  • prison governors and directors were clear about the terrorist risk posed in their prisons and were actively managing this
  • leadership across the NSD and CTNM was strong, and there were clear lines of accountability, enhanced by national multi-agency governance arrangements.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell, whose Inspectorate led this inspection, said: “The public inquests and reviews in the wake of the terrible events of 2019 and 2020 highlighted failings with how known terrorists were being managed in prison and in the community.

“This inspection provides reassurance that significant progress has been made in managing offenders who may pose the most serious risk to the public and our national security. We have found that considerable efforts, and investment, have been made to ensure all those involved in supervising known terrorists are working together and are on the same page.

“We are encouraged by what we have seen. For example, in the probation service there is a new national security directorate with specially trained probation officers who are delivering high-quality supervision and have small, manageable caseloads. However, the risk of further terrorist attacks remains, and continued investment and commitment to interagency information sharing is essential”.

What needs to improve?

This inspection highlighted potential issues around the way data and important information is stored. While we were encouraged by the joined-up way in which bodies are embracing the need to share information around known or possible terrorists, the way in which this is being recorded and stored is disjointed.

For example, we found the NSD does not have the right level of technology to receive and hold highly sensitive material from the police and security services, which hampers the ability of NSD managers to communicate with partners or store information about agreed actions taken. Their IT systems must be improved to meet this essential area of their work.

The inspection also found that, in some cases, only terrorist related behaviours were considered and addressed, rather than taking into consideration all offending-related risks. For example, probation domestic abuse checks with the police were not routinely being undertaken in all cases when they should be. This report also calls for improvements to the way prison staff are trained in issues related to counter terrorism and for prison offender managers to have more involvement in the way the risks of terrorism are managed in custody, with some indicating that they did not have the skills or confidence to challenge terrorist offenders.

Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, said: “We welcome the progress outlined in this report, and the contribution to this work made by prisons. Prison leaders demonstrated an understanding of the risks posed by individuals in their establishments and were actively managing these risks supported by experienced and knowledgeable specialist resources.

“Intelligence sharing, however, remained too cautious for those who were not part of more specialist teams and more still needs to be done to ensure that prison staff have the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage those deemed to present a terrorist risk.”

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Andy Cooke, said: “The management of terrorist offenders can only be effective and robust when there are good multi-agency arrangements in place, so it is encouraging that the National Security Division (NSD), probation, police and prison services have been working well together and managing counter terrorism cases collectively.

“We looked at how the police protect the public from individuals who have been involved in or engaged with terrorism, and we found effective leadership at national and regional level. Managers and supervisors had a good knowledge of their cases; there was oversight of workloads; and communication and sharing of information within and between teams was evident.

“However, the police and others can do more to improve how they share information across different IT systems, in order to minimise risk to the public.

“The threat posed by terrorism hasn’t gone away, and so, for the safety of our public and for our national security, efforts in this area cannot subside. As we tragically witnessed in 2019 and 2020, mistakes can have devastating consequences, and therefore every agency involved must continue to do everything they can to prevent something similar ever happening again.”

This report makes 14 recommendations, which, if followed, should strengthen practice, and address the gaps highlighted in this report.


Notes to editor

  1. This report is available at on 20 July 2023 00.01.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  3. The recommendations, in full, can be found on page 13 of the report.
  4. For media enquiries, please contact (E-mail address)