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Doing Business in an Age of Terrorism

No.10 recently announced that the UK’s terror threat level has increased from “substantial” to “severe”. The threat has probably been high for some while, and raising it publicly may be a prelude to stronger British action against ISIS.

Britain is no stranger to terrorism and some businesses may find themselves playing a role in the UK’s counter-terror strategy (CONTEST). The threat from Northern Irish terrorists has existed for the last 50 years and at one time it was common for the managers of factories in Ulster (and sometimes England) to receive a visit from a plain-clothes police officer informing them that an employee was suspected of terrorist activity. Normally it would be some lower-level crime like hiding a few rifles at their home, and the police simply wanted the employer to let them know if the employee disappeared suddenly. Even so, it was probably quite nerve-racking for the manager, particularly if the factory produced materials that could be used in explosive devices – fertilizers, carbon-based spirits, pressurized-canisters, radio-controlled equipment, etc. If anything went missing without explanation, a call to the police or Special Branch was usually required.

What should you do if you suspect an employee of activities linked with terrorism? Since it is Islamic terrorism that tends to make the newspapers these days, some employers may fear being accused of racism if they act on their suspicions. The simple way around that is to apply the same standards to everyone, regardless of race, religion or political views. There are plenty of terrorist causes in Britain: Northern Irish, Islamic, White Supremacist and Animal Rights to name but four.

The Metropolitan Police have an anti-terrorist hotline and encourage the reporting of suspicious activity. This could include information about someone who:

    • has bought or stored large amounts of chemicals, fertilisers or gas cylinders for no obvious reason;
    • has bought or hired a vehicle in suspicious circumstances;
    • holds passports or other documents in different names for no obvious reason;
    • travels for long periods of time, but is vague about where they’re going.

The most common action to raise suspicion these days may well be accessing websites for terrorist purposes – radicalisation, the making of explosive devices, etc. As long as you have it in your Terms and Conditions or Handbook to monitor use of the company’s internet, then you have every right to do so. If you have a system that highlights particular inappropriate websites, then that shows that you are not singling any one person out for less favorable treatment.

There are said to be seven or eight pointers which when taken together may be indicators of terrorist activity.

    • Surveillance
    • Inquiries entailing attempts to gather information about a person, operation or place pertaining to the target.
    • Tests of security
    • Raising cash
    • Acquiring supplies
    • General out of the usual behaviour. For example, in July 2005 the London bombers made HMDT. This degrades at room temperature, so they installed two large industrial fridges in their rented accommodation.
    • Rehearsal
    • Getting in position

If an employee is not using your company for the activity, and you simply have suspicions, you could contact Channel. This is a Home Office-run project designed to help people who could be vulnerable to terrorist involvement, to identify the problems in their lives that are putting them at risk, and to take action upon it. It’s not an informant network. There is a considerable process before a person is actually contacted by Channel, so if your suspicions are wrong then they will probably work that out before action is taken.

If something unusual appears to have happened in the workplace, investigate to see if you can clarify matters. For example, has the fertilizer been stolen or did someone accidentally send 200 tons to a customer by accident instead of 100? If you can’t get a logical answer and are still suspicious, contact the police.

The chances are you won’t have this problem, but if you do, keep your head, investigate discreetly, and take sensible action. Treat everyone equally, but don’t be afraid to make enquiries if you have a genuine suspicion.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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