Anti-fracking activists falsely accused of ‘grooming’ boy, 14 | World news

The authors of a report investigating extremism in Greater Manchester after the bombing at Manchester Arena falsely suggested that anti-fracking activists “groomed” a 14-year-old boy featured in a case study, the Guardian understands.

The 124-page report by the Greater Manchester Preventing Hateful Extremism and Promoting Social Cohesion Commission, published on Monday, included the story of a teenager referred to Channel, part of the government’s anti-extremist Prevent programme.

Calling him Aaron, the report described him as an A* pupil who “was referred to the Channel programme by his school, due to concerns about his extreme beliefs in relation to the environment, specifically issues around fracking”.

It said he was targeted by local activists after signing an online petition, and that these approaches “became progressively more aggressive to the point where Aaron was on the periphery of engaging in criminal behaviour and frequently reported to the police as missing by his parents”.

But according to Greater Manchester police (GMP), the boy in question was never involved in the anti-fracking movement. He had been targeted by an entirely different group of activists, the force said. The detail was then changed without their knowledge, ostensibly to protect his real identity.

Jenny Jones, the Green peer, initially said it was “incredibly alarming to see anti-fracking activism categorised by police in the same way as extremism”, and expressed her scepticism about the report’s veracity.

Informed of the fact that anti-fracking activists had never been involved with the boy, Baroness Jones said: “To potentially drag the name of fracking activists through the mud like this is totally unacceptable. We should not stand by and watch while environmental campaigners are discredited in this way.

“Disguising the identity of a vulnerable young person and ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place is of course very important, but we must also make sure we are not wrongly implicating activists in this fashion.”

It was a “dreadful error”, an official at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) conceded on Monday. The report would be corrected as soon as possible, the official said.

The GMCA accepted the disclaimer included in the report did not cover the alteration of such an important piece of information. It said: “All case studies used in this report are based on genuine case examples from Greater Manchester. Some details may have been changed in order to protect the identity(ies) of the person(s) involved.”

The report was published at noon on Monday. It was commissioned by Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, following the 22 May attack last year. The authors, who included Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for the north-west, were tasked with considering “how to tackle hateful extremism, social exclusion and radicalisation across Greater Manchester”.

The case study claimed the boy was saved after the police sent an “abduction notice” to the main protagonist of the social media lobbying. Such notices prohibit an individual from making contact with a named child and a breach is a criminal offence.

The report suggested the lesson from Aaron’s case was that “learning from other crime types such as child sexual exploitation should be translated into other arenas”.

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