‘I’m not here to spy’: Out on counter terrorism patrol with Hackney police

Pc Neil Parham in his cabin. Behind him is a world map he uses to mark global news. Photo: Dieter P

Pc Neil Parham in his cabin. Behind him is a world map he uses to mark global news. Photo: Dieter Perry - Credit: dieter perry

Pc Neil Parham has spent four years fighting terrorism in Hackney by building better bonds with community leaders. The Gazette joins him for his final shift at the Masjid-e-Quba mosque in Stamford Hill

At the Masjid-e-Quba mosque

At the Masjid-e-Quba mosque - Credit: Archant

“If we go back in history before September 11, if I may use that term, it was different,” Eusoof Amerat, trustee of the Masjid-e-Quba mosque, tells the Gazette at his office in Cazenove Road, Stamford Hill.

It is Friday night after prayers, and we are on counter terrorism patrol with Hackney police. Eusoof is explaining how trust has been built with the Met since 2001.

“The mosque community in Hackney usually put their heads down if they saw cops,” he says. “But after that time the police woke up as well, if I may say so. The police realised they need to work with the community and they can’t just do it on their own.

“Once you know the officers are with you, then you can be open and you are supporting and helping each other.”

Pc Neil Parhams team visits Muslim primary school The Olive School.

Pc Neil Parhams team visits Muslim primary school The Olive School. - Credit: Archant

This week the Met appealed to communities to “act on their instincts” to prevent atrocities taking place in the UK and overseas, as the threat becomes “increasingly complex and varied”.

New figures reveal information from the public has assisted counter terrorism police in a third of their most “high-risk” investigations.

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Hackney’s “public face of counter terrorism”, Pc Neil Parham, joins us in the office. He has been helping fold flannels for a ceremony with a group of men in the corner of the mosque. “Just did my little chore for the week,” he says. “They keep me busy.” It’s Neil’s last shift after being in the post for four years. He is moving up the ranks to Scotland Yard as an emergency planner in case of terrorist attacks.

He’s built up a strong bond and broken down barriers with people in Muslim, Jewish and Turkish communities during that time through his humour and willingness to get stuck in. A photo of him swapping his police cap for a visitor’s shtreimel fur hat reportedly went viral in Israel, and people here recognise him from the picture in the streets.

While Neil deals with the “protect and prepare” strands of the government’s “contest strategy”, the specialist operations branch SO15 deals with “pursue and prevent”.

As we tuck into Jalebi sticky sweet pastries and a fafra biscuit made of lentils and gram flour, Neil explains: “I’m not here to spy. When I come here I wear a uniform because I want to be visible.”

Earlier in his HQ – a cabin out the back of Stoke Newington Police Station – he had said: “We’re a bit like Dad’s Army. I’ve got the belly for it. ‘Pursue’ are the guys that go out and monitor suspected terrorists. That’s the ‘what you see on telly’ policing.”

Every day, Neil monitors international media – from Al Jazeera to Die Welt – to link events overseas with what might happen in Hackney.

With 20,000 Turks living here, for instance, Neil tries to avert the potential for disorder here sparked by the “virtual civil war” between Turks and Kurds in south Turkey. “These people are galvanised,” he says. “It’s their homeland, and we are seeing that outrage on the streets of London with fire bombs.

“When there was an apparent attempted coup in Turkey I was out the next morning putting patrols out. Then the potential for disorder plummets because we are one step ahead of them. You are letting every aspect of the community know you are there for them.”

He also has to bear in mind the terror threat to the Jewish community – rated nationally as “severe” – because of Stamford Hill’s huge Haredi population. Crowded places, too, are graded at “severe”.

“From a counter-terrorism point of view I think of Shoreditch in terms of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the Bataclan,” he admits. “It’s a major business zone with a lot of US interests. I constantly work to put mitigation in place to reduce that risk.”