by Jon Robins
As the party faithful gathered in Birmingham earlier this month, one Tory MP wasn’t going to take any lessons from a Strasbourg-based watchdog over their concerns about a rise in post-Brexit hate crime in the UK. Peter Bone had done his own research. “I did not come across a single racist person in the thousands of miles I travelled during the referendum campaign,” he told The Daily Mail.
The MP for Wellingborough was responding to a report from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRIL), a monitoring body which is part of the Council of Europe, warning that the events of June were fuelling hate crimes.
It was “no coincidence” that racist attacks were on the rise in the UK at the same time there were “worrying examples of intolerance and hate speech” in the press and from our politicians, reckoned ECRI chair Christian Ahlund. He continued: “The Brexit referendum seems to have led to a further rise in ‘anti-foreigner’ sentiment, making it even more important that the British authorities take the steps outlined in our report as a matter of priority.”
Peter Bone dismissed the study as “a slur on the British public”. “The left-wing organisations that produce these reports have no idea, they are talking out of their hat,” he said. Meanwhile in her conference speech Theresa May, who as Home Secretary commissioned advertising on vans telling illegal immigrants “Go Home”, told delegates: “I want us to be a country where it doesn’t matter where you were born.”
ECRI reported a sharp rise in anti-Muslim violence following the murder of the Fusilier Lee Rigby in May 2013 and the following year it noted record levels of anti-Semitic incidents. It quoted statistics from the official helpline for victims of Islamophobia, Tell MAMA (as in Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) which reckoned that on-line hate speech had “soared” since 2013. It recorded a 373% increase in the week after Lee Rigby’s murder.
Tell MAMA claimed that they had been on the receiving end themselves after being denied access to their own fringe event at the conference. The group issued a statement describing how their team was threatened with violence by G4S security staff and a gay employee was subjected to homophobic abuse preventing their meeting on the theme of anti-Muslim hatred going ahead.
As an aside, the troubled G4S, which has been fined at least one hundred times for its inability to deliver on prison contracts, was the surprising recipient of a government contact to run the national discrimination advice helpline, the Equality Advisory and Support Service. There was an attempted legal challenge of that decision this month by the Law Centres Network and some 41 groups (including Liberty, Inquest as well as Tell MAMA) have signed a letter highlighting its “serious human rights violations”.
According to the ECRI study, quoting Home Office figures, there were 52,528 hate crimes recorded by the police last year. More than eight out of 10 (82%) related to race (10% concerned sexual orientation; 6% religious; and 1% transgender hate crimes). Overall the figures represented a significant increase (18%) compared to the previous year. Six out of 10 of all hate-motivated offences last year were public order offences, the vast majority involving “public fear, alarm or distress”), and almost one third (30%) related to violence against the person.
The study highlighted the concern that racially-motivated aspects of cases were effectively being “filtered out” by the police, CPS and judiciary. According to the report, this happened as a result of “a combination of unwillingness to recognise racist motivation, the reclassifying of racist attacks as disputes or other forms of hostility, and the over-strict interpretation of the provisions on racist motivation”.
The research flagged up the disparity between hate crime recorded by the police and that referred for prosecution. So in the year 2013-2014, the police referred 12,184 racially or religiously aggravated offences cases to the CPS (up 15% on the previous year); eight out of 10 went on to prosecution; and the conviction rate was 85%.
There were also concerns about significant under-reporting. It compared Home Office figures to the Crime Survey for England and Wales which revealed that there were an estimated 222,000 hate-motivated criminal offences on average per year. Only one-in-four hate-motivated offences was recorded by the police, it reckoned. “This may indicate deficiencies in police recording of hate-motivated offences and unwillingness of hate crime victims to report such crime,” the group added.
The Strasbourg-based body placed these alarming statistics in the context of what it described as “considerable intolerant political discourse”. “Terms such as “invasions” and “floods” were frequently used as well as the expression “benefits tourism”, despite a 2013 European Commission study finding no evidence that the main motivation of EU citizens to migrate was benefit-related,” it noted.
The study quoted Nigel Farage, back as UKIP leader, warning of “rising public concern about immigration partly because people believe there are some Muslims who want to form a fifth column and kill us”. It also referred to the former PM, David Cameron earlier in the year, launching a £20m language fund to enable Muslim women to learn English, associating the scheme with countering “backward attitudes”.
Jon Robins is a journalist & editor of The Justice Gap
This article was originally published on Criminal Law & Justice Weekly