Hate crime is “an issue of growing concern” that “will not be tolerated”, a leading West Yorkshire campaigner has said.
Iqbal Bhana, the deputy chair of the government’s cross-departmental hate crime advisory group, said a rise in the number of hate crimes in the county needed to be tackled.
He said: “In the last two years hate crime has become an issue of growing concern particularly homophobic and anti-islam hate crime but also anti-semetic crime and crime directed towards the disabled.
“There are concerns about what’s going on in our communities to make this such an issue, concerns about people not feeling confident about reporting it and concerns about how we can deal with it.”
More than 240 hate crime offences were recorded by police by the end of July this year, a six per cent rise on the 229 noted by the force in the whole of 2014.
The force’s records list 687 hate crimes to have taken place in the region since the start of 2013.
In the seven months to July 31 this year, there were 160 homophobic, 71 anti-islamic and 13 anti-semetic crimes. In 2013, the totals for the same crimes were 148, 57 and 9 respectively.
Mr Bhana, from Batley, said: “We need to look at addressing what’s happening in our communities and ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to teach people how to respect each other and embrace difference.
“We need to look at what can be done within and across communities and in schools and colleges to teach people about hate crime and its consequences.
“It can absolutely devastate people’s lives and their living standards, safety and wellbeing.
“Criminal justice agencies need to take it more seriously. We need to show we as a society will not tolerate hate crime.”
Barnardo’s children’s charity supports young people who have been victims of hate crime, providing counselling, advice and information.
Marcel Varney, assistant director of children’s services for Barnardo’s Kirklees, Calderdale and Leeds said the figures could mean more homophobic hate crimes were being reported. She said: “It’s important to realise that although the figures imply an increase in homophobic, biphobic or transphobic hate crimes, what is also probable, is that the increase is due to more crimes actually getting reported.
“In the last few years, there has been an increased awareness of what to report, how to report and where you can report.
“There is also an increasing sense within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) community of confidence - that homophobic, biphobic or transphobic crimes are listened to by the police and acted upon with sensitivity, confidentiality and awareness.” Through its work the charity has seen hate incidents ranging from name calling to graffiti, bullying and physical assault.
Ms Varney said: “We’ve seen the impact these crimes can have on LGBTQ young people, their families, friends and communities.
“Young LGBTQ people who have been victims of hate crimes or hate incidents often come to us with very low self-esteem.
“Mental health problems are all too common and where incidents are not reported or adequately supported young people will often carry the mental repercussions of it for many years.
“The fear that it may happen again can also cause social anxieties or phobias, which in turn can easily lead to social isolation and poor school attendance and achievement.”
West Yorkshire Police works with agencies across the five districts in the county to deal with hate crimes. Hate crime co-ordinators oversee all investigations and scrutiny panels, made up of members of the public, look at the investigations to ensure they are satisfactory.
Hate incident reporting centres and risk assessments are in place across the area to ensure victims are supported.
Assistant chief constable Angela Williams, former Calderdale divisional commander, said: “Tackling hate crime continues to be a priority for West Yorkshire Police, with supporting victims at the heart of everything we do.
“Being who you are is not a crime, but being targeted because of race, sexual orientation, religion, disability or gender identity can be.
“Hate crime training has been delivered to officers and we want to continue to do all we can to increase confidence in reporting of hate crime. Feedback and evidence from regular surveys suggests that victims are now more willing to come forward.”
Coun Richard Forster, hate crime champion at Wakefield Council, added: “It is encouraging to see that more people are reporting hate crime.
“We know it is an under reported issue and we’ve been working hard to make it easier for people to report it by developing a network of hate incident reporting centres and launching an online reporting facility.
“I urge anybody who is a victim or witness to this crime to report it immediately,” he added.