Photo credit: Andrew Aitchison / In Pictures via Getty Images)

Meet the SAGE of hate crime

The unaccountable group that shapes hate crime policy

Artillery Row

The Independent Advisory Group (IAG) on hate crime is a group of advisors from charities and academia, who provide advice on hate crime, and has included groups like Stonewall and Tell MAMA. This might be thought of as the SAGE of hate crime. There are scant details publicly available but the group has existed since around 2007, and has sat in the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. 

The problem is some groups involved derive income in part from policy they provide advice upon, bringing into question their independence. For instance, Galop is represented in the group (as of March 2021) and received £1.2 million since 2016/17 from the Home Office for work including tackling hate crime. Tell MAMA received £4 million over the last five years. The Community Security Trust receives about £14 million each year, while Stonewall has recommended its controversial “Diversity Champions” scheme as a way to fight hate crime. The Home Office is still a member, paying £3,000 each year.

There are questions about the value of what Stonewall has to say. It talks up the rise in recorded hate crime as a real rise, but overlooks the evidence from the Crime Survey, showing a decline. Its research claims the shares of gay people experiencing hate crime have risen from 9 to 16 per cent between 2013 and 2017, with 19 per cent reporting to the police. There are 1.4 million gay or bisexual adults in Britain, so that would mean at least 224,000 hate crimes, based on Stonewall estimates. This is greater than the Crime Survey estimate of 23,000. It further implies 42,560 crimes reported to the police, yet in England & Wales, the most recent figure is roughly 17,000. Likely, such high estimates stem from internet surveys, circulated among activists, leading to sampling biases.

The minutes obtained are heavily redacted

Similarly, Galop claims that “LGBT+ hate crime is disproportionately on the rise in the UK”. It campaigns for more “support” for victims — services which it provides.

IAGs were initially set up based on recommendations of the Macpherson report the idea was to foster trust with independent observers of state activity, and for the state to have advice to inform policy, procedure, and intelligence for major incidents. It’s difficult to argue with the founding principles behind IAGs, but the lack of openness is self-defeating. 

Its membership was obtained by a FOI disclosure in March 2021, so we cannot say for sure who currently sits on the group. Some groups represented are inter-related, such as Faith Matters and Tell MAMA. Five members have all published articles in the same book, implying something of a clique. There are no representatives of Christian, Sikh or Hindu groups either. Most notable is the absence of any known hate crime sceptics, such as Harry Miller. While the group genuinely will have something to offer, “hate crime” is controversial for many.

Attendees are remunerated for their time at these quarterly meetings. The government paid £175 for under 4 hours attendance and £350 for over 4 hours (which includes travel time) as well as travel expenses a generous sum indeed. 

Two copies of its minutes have been obtained, again via FOI. They show sometimes IAG members raise their own group interests, for example Gypsy/Traveller rights, that have nothing to do with hate crime. One of the attendees at a meeting in January 2020, set out “concerns regarding the ‘Consultation on measures to criminalise trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales’” — but on this item the minutes stress, “… this was an issue about homelessness and local authorities not providing sites, rather than a criminal issue”. In other words, little to do with hate crime.

One member offered to provide “training” for ministers, but this means access. The IAG allows campaigners such as Stonewall privileged access to civil servants and government ministers. These are not signatories to the Civil Service Code, nor accountable to the electorate. Moreover, Stonewall seeks to influence policy on hate crime and fundraises on the issue.

The minutes obtained are heavily redacted. The Home Office claims this is to protect the free exchange of opinion within meetings, which is fair enough, only the censored material pertains sometimes to matters of fact. For example, the minutes as supplied read, “MHCLG have approved 6 months of funding for a project. The purpose of this project is to work with the REDACTED”. The names of all individuals attending the meetings were censored as well as the names and organisations of external attendees.

The Home Office further claims it does not hold minutes for all IAG meetings, since sometimes the IAG met without civil servants.

Both sets of minutes make reference to the conflict over the “No Outsiders” programme in Birmingham schools, where teachers faced opposition from Muslims over “LGBT” lessons. That this pertains to “hate crime” is tenuous; the affair may have led to abuse of gay people, but it has more to do with a culture clash over matters of personal conscience beyond basic education. The IAG has had two “LGBT” organisations, Stonewall and Galop included, who will likely come down on one side. That the affair is being treated as to do with hate crime balances the discussion against religious conservatives.

The minutes show the group discussing more nebulous concepts such as “hateful extremism” and “hate”, shorn of any crime. The minutes reference a pan-European approach, “which highlighted a longstanding commitment to criminalise racial hate”. This alarmingly shows non-elected individuals entertaining ideas of regulating thought and speech.

Reference is made to the “True Vision Dashboard of Hate” which includes a “tool” that can “search through social media… for hateful messages”. Apparently, “the system is nuanced enough to bring out hateful messages, even when the content does not contain hateful words”.

The government and IAG have recently gone their separate ways

Both sets of minutes show a concern with how much “hate” Greta Thunberg receives. Minutes from September 2019 claim she “has been receiving between 45 and 60 messages per minute regarding her disability” while minutes from January 2020 put it at “16 to 20 hate messages per minute”, rising to 800 when she met Donald Trump.

The group will also invite in external organisations. One such group appears to be Media Diversity, which raised how the existing guidelines used by IPSO to regulate the print media were insufficient to censor Rod Liddle for an offensive joke. The media spreading “hate” was discussed, with the work of the campaign group Stop Funding Hate noted. This is entertaining ideas of controlling a free media, undertaken by unelected individuals within the state, paid for by the taxpayer, who is unaware. 

The proposed changes to clause 12 of the Editors’ Code of Practice would make it impossible for journalists to write about important issues like grooming gangs, Islamic extremism, and transgenderism without falling foul of group rights to act against alleged discrimination. 

As an interesting twist, we approached the Home Office for comment and were told that the government and IAG have recently gone their separate ways. It now sits within the National Police Chiefs’ Council. A Home Office spokesperson said:

“In April 2020, the Home Office briefly took over full responsibility from the Ministry of Justice for the oversight of the Independent Advisory Group on hate crime.

“The Home Office had some concerns about the transparency and impartiality of the IAG, and planned to work with the group to resolve these issues. However, this summer the IAG moved under the oversight of the NPCC and is consequently no longer a Government-affiliated body. The IAG now serves as a body solely to inform and support policing requirements on hate crime.”

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover