Artillery Row

Hate crime and hate slime

There’s a difference between violence and criticism

Just in case you’ve missed it, we’re in the middle of “national hate crime awareness week”. This Orwellian-sounding event is popular with police forces up and down the country, prompting some of them to publish photographs of their unfortunately-named “hate crime officers”. I initially assumed that the job involved deterring hate crimes, although I’m now wondering whether it is actually about driving numbers up.

The Crown Prosecution Service is certainly keen to do that, claiming to know that “more than half of all hate crime incidents aren’t reported to the police”. It reflects a widespread assumption that increasing the number of recorded incidents is a good thing, even though the very notion of “hate crime” is mired in confusion. What constitutes a hate crime? Is it different from a “hate crime incident”, which does not necessarily result in the police or CPS identifying an actual criminal offence?

Authorities don’t actually know whether hate crime has increased

The absence of a clear definition is at the heart of the problem, something brushed aside by police and prosecutors in their zeal to record ever more cases. They define a hate crime as being motivated by “hostility” to someone on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity. (Women were left out of the legislation — a telling oversight even though adding misogyny would, in my view, lead to a slew of malicious complaints against feminists from trans activists). It all sounds reasonable enough until you discover that “hostility”, according to the CPS, includes not just vile outpourings of racism or homophobia but “unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike”. Unfriendliness is now something to report to the police?

It’s worth bearing that definition in mind following the publication last week of headline-grabbing statistics that appeared to show a country in the grip of a rising storm of hatred. The number of hate crimes recorded by police forces in England and Wales in the year ending March 2022 rose by just over a quarter, to 155,841, with the vast majority relating to racism. But the biggest increase was in reports of hate crimes against transgender people, which rose to 4,355, up by 56 per cent on the previous year. In some quarters, the latter figure was seized on as evidence of growing “transphobia” — supposedly supporting activists’ shaky claim that trans people are the most oppressed section of the population.

You don’t have to look very far into the official report to find an important caveat, in the shape of an admission that the authorities don’t actually know whether there has been a real increase in hate crime or whether the figures simply reflect increases in police recording. “Because of these changes, police recorded crime figures do not currently provide reliable trends in hate crime”, the Home Office warned. Indeed another set of official figures, the crime survey for England and Wales, has suggested that people are experiencing fewer hate incidents, with incidents falling by 40 per cent in the past decade.

Here’s another statistic that didn’t get widely reported: only nine per cent of all “hate crime flagged offences” led to a charge or summons, which was actually a small decrease from 2021. It looks as though serious offences — violence against the person, criminal damage or arson — get to court, but that leaves a vast hinterland of cases that don’t. That may be due to evidential problems in some instances but we know that some police forces have been keeping records of an absurd category, “non-crime hate incidents”, with damaging implications for individuals unknowingly tagged in this way. Sarah Phillimore has written for The Critic about her discovery that Wiltshire police had compiled twelve pages of her tweets without her knowledge and recorded her as “a barrister posting hate”. The force eventually agreed to delete the material on its database, but how many others have been smeared in this way?

Why can’t we apply the same principle to rape cases?

Public misconceptions about hate crime are widespread, including the idea that it is a standalone crime. It isn’t: the legislation allows for heavier sentences when an offence is tagged as a hate crime, but investigators must first find a criminal offence to attach it to. In that sense, reporting a hate crime is a misnomer, which hasn’t stopped any number of police forces from encouraging people to do it. The Met Police, currently in special measures following a torrent of revelations about misogyny, racism and a failure to identify sexual predators in its own ranks, is one of the forces taking part in national hate crime awareness week.

The Met shows predictable enthusiasm for getting the numbers up, admitting that “not all hate incidents will amount to criminal offences” but insisting “it is equally important that these are reported and recorded by the police”. In an even more startling admission, the Met’s guidance goes on to acknowledge that “evidence of the hate element is not a requirement”. (But, but, but, I am tempted to protest, why can’t we apply the same principle to rape cases?)

It is hard to think of a more powerful indictment of the minefield created by hate crime legislation. Laws already exists to punish individuals who threaten to hurt, rape or kill other people, but poor leadership and lack of resources have allowed the police to neglect its duty to protect the public. If there is an argument for hate crime legislation, it should be used within much stricter limits, and not to deal with rude or mocking posts on social media. It certainly shouldn’t be an excuse for performative displays of solidarity with fashionable causes.

Step forward Northamptonshire Police, who couldn’t be more on board with national hate crime awareness week. The force boasts that it is “teaming up with partner agencies this week to champion diversity and tolerance”. Some of us might think investigating violent crime is a more urgent priority, given that only 15 people were convicted of rape in Northants last year, despite almost a thousand new offences being recorded by police. But that’s just about women, and when have we ever been in fashion?

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