Britain reports big rise in hate crime, citing Brexit and terrorist attack

Members of the public paying their respects following a vigil for the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing, in Manchester on May 23, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (NYTIMES) - The referendum on British membership in the European Union and several terrorist attacks, including a suicide bombing after a concert in Manchester, England, have helped drive hate crimes in Britain to record levels, official figures showed Tuesday (Oct 17).

The Home Office said 80,393 hate crimes were reported during the 12 months to March of this year, an increase of nearly 30 per cent and the largest year-to-year rise in the five years data has been collected. The increase was "larger than anticipated", said Paul Iganski, a hate crimes expert and professor of criminology at Lancaster University.

The "Brexit" campaign last year to leave the European Union was supported by some right-wing and nationalist groups, and the vote gave rise to concerns that minorities and immigrants would be more vulnerable to hate crimes.

In addition, provisional data collected around the time of terrorist attacks this year in London and Manchester, where the bombing outside the Ariana Grande concert left 22 dead, found that hate crimes soon followed the attacks.

But the rise can be attributed in part to increased public awareness and changes in the law, which broadened the definition of hate crimes to the point that almost any verbal or physical assault can be categorised as one if the victim interprets it as such.

Many of the changes stem from the racially charged murder of Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man who was stabbed while waiting for a bus in southeast London in 1993.

The authorities have also improved their capacity to record and document attacks, and victims are widely believed to feel more comfortable going to the police.

"Britain is no more or less bigoted than any other country, for example in Europe," said Iganski, adding that the increase "reflects the advances made by the criminal justice and the police" in dealing with hate crimes.

Nearly 80 per cent of such crimes were based on race, according to the report. About 10 percent were based on sexual orientation and 7 per cent on religion. Seven per cent of hate crimes were based on a person's disability and a further 2 per cent were transgender-related hate crimes. (It is possible for a hate crime to have more than one motivating factor, the report said.)

The number of hate crimes decreased in the days after attacks in London in March, outside Parliament, and after the Manchester attack in April, but then rose again after the attack on London Bridge and Borough Market in early June, and then after an attack in the Finsbury neighborhood of London later that month, the Home Office said in its report.

"I think they'll continue to rise," Iganski said. "As the Brexit negotiations become more entrenched, they're a constant reminder of the position of eastern European migrants, contributing to a climate of hostility. As we draw closer to the deadline, and as negotiations get tougher, the climate is going to get worse. And every time we have a terror attack, there'll be a backlash. Each time, it goes up a notch."

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, said there was "absolutely no place" for hate crime in Britain and that she welcomed the news that victims were more confident that the authorities would treat accusations of hate crime seriously.

"But no one in Britain should have to suffer violent prejudice," she said, "and indications that there was a genuine rise in the number of offences immediately following each of this year's terror attacks is undoubtedly concerning."

The Home Office has said it is spending 4.4 million euros (S$7.02 million) to protect places of worship and to support communities.

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