Photo by Rob Pinney
Artillery Row

Hate is not a crime

Officers’ good intentions have been weaponised by unscrupulous whingers to muzzle their ideological opponents

When campaigner Harry Miller was questioned about comments he’d made online, the dutiful copper on the other end of the phone clearly thought he was just doing his job. Apparently unaware of the raging debate around the reform of the Gender Recognition Act, the officer explained that he knew he was right because he’d been on a training course. This small exchange, which was referenced in the recent case won by Miller at the Court of Appeal, underscores a wider problem: the ill-conceived concept of hate crime is tempting police officers away from law enforcement towards making moral judgements.

Hate crime does not exist in itself as an indictable offence; it is comprised of “non-crime hate incidents” (NCHI) and considered as an aggravating factor during sentencing. Developed as a response to the institutional racism exposed in the Macpherson report, hate crime is an attempt to give a voice to those too easily side-lined by a majority white, straight and male police force. The College of Policing (CoP) identify five specific “strands” which designate people at risk from hate: disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

124,091 non-crime hate incidents have been logged since 2014

A new form of prejudice is baked into this touchy-feely approach: provided complainants tick the requisite boxes to show social disadvantage, they are not credited with the wit to be vexatious. Consequently, the police have found themselves unwitting foot soldiers in a culture war which has seeped from social media into real life. The good intentions of officers have been weaponised by unscrupulous whingers who claim offence to muzzle their ideological opponents. Miller was far from the only person targeted by police for exercising his freedom of speech numerous others have been questioned, arrested and in some cases dragged through the courts for doing nothing more than sharing their opinions online.

Miller’s well-publicised victory against the CoP will force a rethink. It is estimated 124,091 NCHI have been logged since 2014. Many of those with NCHIs recorded against their names have no idea about it.

Looking outside at the cheerless drizzle, it’s easy to understand why police officers might prefer to sit inside cosy offices logging tweets rather than pounding the streets or breaking-up bar room brawls. At a time when much of the left-leaning press has tarred the law enforcement officials as “baddies”, notching-up hate crimes serves as a reminder that law enforcement is on the side of the righteous.

The CoP claim that the rationale for recording NCHI is that it gives “the evidence of motivation for subsequent hate crimes and has the power to prevent an escalation into criminal behaviour”. This is based on a model developed by psychologist Gordon Allport who postulated that antilocution (hate speech) was the first of five stages which eventually led to genocide.

Hate crime is indicative of serious flaws within policing

Applied to social media, this has the logical coherence of the panic in the 1980s about “video nasties” leading to an epidemic of brutal murders. The tone of discussion on Twitter might reveal something about the temperature of society, but there is no evidence that it escalates to real world “literal violence”. Despite hyperbolic headlines, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), the number of annual incidents for all hate crime has decreased by 38 per cent from 2007/08 to 2019/20.

Nonetheless, an industry has developed around hate crime messaging: the police are keen to push the NCHI reporting up. Taking their lead from the health service initiatives designed to prevent ill-health rather than treating illnesses, forces across the country are vying to tell people to keep quiet to avoid causing upset. This was strikingly illustrated by Merseyside police, who were pushed to apologise earlier this year after they launched a campaign to encourage the reporting of hate crime with the strapline “being offensive is an offence”.

Hate crime offers an enticingly easy win: those deemed “victims” feel listened to, the police feel like the good guys and the “offenders” for the most part are forced to shut-up. It is a virtuous circle of feeling, that neatly side-steps the need for counter arguments and proof. Not only is it open to abuse and authoritarian in its application, hate crime is indicative of serious flaws within policing. Justice should be applied with an even hand; hate crime deprives the police of the chance to do so. Ordinarily it is the duty of officers to record and review evidence. If they are not trusted to be objective when someone claims to belong to a marginalised group, that is not evidence of success it is an admission of failure.

Hate is not a crime, and it is not the job of the police to promote social justice campaigns. Ultimately, hate is best left in the mind of the beholder.

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