Right-wing extremists account for 20 per cent of terrorist prisoners — the highest proportion since records began and a further sign of the growing threat.
Forty-two of the 209 terrorist inmates were classed as holding “extreme right-wing” views last year, up from 18 per cent the previous year.
Home Office figures also revealed that the proportion of people arrested for terrorism offences last year who consider themselves British was 81 per cent, the highest recorded.
The number of white people arrested for terrorism offences in the UK outstripped Asian people for the third year running. Before 2018, arrests of Asian people had been higher than those for white people every year since 2004.
It was also revealed yesterday that police and UK intelligence services have foiled three terrorist attacks since the beginning of the pandemic. In total 28 terrorist plots have been prevented since March 2017, police said.
Terrorism-related activity dropped by a third in 2020 to the lowest level in nine years because of the coronavirus restrictions.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, the senior national co-ordinator for counterterrorism policing, said: “These statistics tell me two things. Firstly, that despite facing unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic, counterterrorism policing continued to keep the public safe by making 185 arrests across more than 800 live investigations, stopping three possible terror attacks in the process.
“And secondly, that while the rest of us have been focused on protecting ourselves and our families from this terrible disease, terrorists have not stopped planning attacks or radicalising vulnerable people online.
“As we follow the government’s road map out of the tightest restrictions there will be greater opportunity for terrorists to operate, and we want the public to join the police, security staff and retail workers in a collective community effort to minimise the chance of attack.
“We know from experience that public information and action helps save lives and lead to the significant arrests detailed in these statistics.”
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, told the Commons that teenagers were being recruited to terrorist organisations during lockdown in “worrying” numbers.
He said: “In December 2020 the UK counterterrorism referral unit saw a 7 per cent rise in the volume of terrorist content online and we can see a worrying rise in the proportion of children and teenagers that are now being arrested for terrorism offences.”
Records on prisoner ideology began in 2013, when the proportion of far-right extremists stood at 6 per cent.
This halved to 3 per cent in the following two years but has risen year on year ever since.
While the “vast majority” — 75 per cent — are still classed as having Islamist extremist views, the number of inmates recorded as holding this ideology fell from 177 to 156 in the last year.
The figures, which count convicted offenders and those being held on remand, also recorded 11 inmates who were not classified as holding a specific ideology, down from 13 a year earlier.
Experts have put down the record far-right prisoner numbers to an increase in the number of right-wing organisations banned in the UK. National Action was proscribed as a terrorist group in 2017, while several other neo-Nazi groups, such as the Feuerkrieg Division, were added to the blacklist in July.
This article first appeared in The Times