A NEW safeguarding website has been launched by counter terrorism police in a bid to stop young people from becoming radicalised.

The website, called Act Early, comes amid a backdrop of rising social isolation due to Covid-19 and hateful extremism online, which experts say is creating a 'perfect storm' for young people to be exploited.

Parents, friends and family of any individual in Dorset who they believe is being drawn into harmful activities or groups will be able to access the website.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, head of counter terrorism policing, said: "We are seeing more young people being drawn towards terrorist activity.

"Last year, 12 children under the age of 18 were arrested in relation to terrorism offences, some as young as 14-years-old.

"That is a relatively new and worrying trend in the UK, because just a few years ago we were not seeing anyone that young amongst our casework.

"What concerns me most is this – there has been a sharp increase in extremist material online in the last few years, and Covid-19 has meant that vulnerable people are spending a lot more time isolated and online, and with fewer of the protective factors that schooling, employment, friends and family can provide.

"In my opinion that is a perfect storm, one which we cannot predict and that we might be feeling the effects of for many years to come."

According to police, between January 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, 17 children in England and Wales were arrested in relation to terrorism offences.

In the same time period, more than 1,500 children under the age of 15 were helped by the Prevent programme.

The government's anti-radicalisation Prevent programme is delivered locally by teachers, social workers, healthcare practitioners, the police, charities and religious leaders.

But concerns have been growing through the pandemic that because of Covid restrictions, the people who need the help most are not getting it.

Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Stenner, of counter terrorism policing south west, said: “Like all regions across the country we have noticed a significant drop (63 per cent) in Prevent referrals in the past year.

“I hope ACT Early resources give confidence to anyone who might be concerned someone close could be heading down a path towards terrorism that support is available.

“Family and friends are best placed to spot worrying behaviour and together we can help prevent their loved ones from being drawn into harmful activities or groups.

“I’d also like to reassure people that we won’t tell the person they’re worried about they called us, unless they say we can.”

Visit Actearly.uk for details, or call the Police Prevent Advice Line on 0800 011 3764 in confidence.