Rise in race crimes ‘due to war on terror’
Independent, 18 January 2005
Racist crime in England and Wales reached record levels last year, prompting fears of an outbreak of Islamophobia sparked by the war on terror.
Figures published by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) today show prosecutions of racially aggravated offences have increased by 2,500 since race-hate laws were introduced in 1999. In the past two years, those prosecutions have jumped by more than 20 per cent.
Today’s report confirms fears raised by Muslim and Asian leaders that there is a link between the war on terror and a rise in racist incidents.
Last year, the Director of Public Prosecutions warned that a growth in race-hate crime and a sharp rise in the number of young Asian men being stopped by the police threatened to alienate Britain’s Muslim communities.
That picture is supported by prosecutions of religiously aggravated crime, which has more than doubled in the past year with Muslims identified as the victims in half of all cases.
One of the 49 cases involved a passenger in a minicab who subjected the Muslim driver to racially and religiously abusive language. After pleading guilty to religiously aggravated common assault, he received four months imprisonment. Ken Macdonald QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, told The Independent last year that the typical race-hate element of a crime involved white youths calling Asians “mullahs, Bin Ladens or Taliban”.
The CPS said there was also evidence of inter-racial religious hatred crime. A 12-year-old Sikh boy was attacked by a 14-year-old Muslim boy who threw a lighted aerosol at him, setting his hair and turban alight. The attacker was convicted last year of religiously aggravated actual bodily harm. He was sentenced to a three-month action-plan order and made to pay the victim £200 in compensation and £100 costs.
Between April 2003 and the end of March 2004, the CPS dealt with 4,728 racially aggravated cases and prosecuted 3,616 of them. The figures also suggest other cases are not being prosecuted because of difficulties getting witnesses to give evidence in court.
Mr Macdonald said: “I am reassured the conviction rate for racially aggravated offences remains high but there is still work to be done. In this report, witness difficulties accounted for 26 per cent of dropped charges. We have high hopes that the witness care units, which are being rolled out to all 42 criminal justice areas in England and Wales, will provide more dedicated care to witnesses to help them attend court for all types of case.”
The CPS pledged to tackle race crimes more vigorously after a report by its independent inspectorate in May 2002 found prosecutors were wrongly reducing charges in more than one in four racist incidents. Charges of racially aggravated crimes were regularly downgraded to remove the race element, while in other cases prosecutors accepted defendants’ guilty pleas to the crime minus the racial aggravation.
The conviction rate for all those charged remains high at 86 per cent compared to 85 per cent in 2002-2003.
The breakdown of religiously aggravated offences mirrors racially aggravated offences. Public order was the predominant offence followed by assault, criminal damage and harassment. The majority of the charges were prosecuted in the magistrates’ courts. In magistrates’, crown and youth courts the overall conviction rate was 77 per cent on religiously aggravated charges and 86 per cent on all charges.
Mr Macdonald told The Independent last year that the war on terror had sparked a growth in Islamophobia and had led to a more divided society. He warned: “Terrorism is creating divisions between our diverse societies. We have to be careful that we respect diverse cultures and we prosecute cases without discrimination.
“What the figures are showing is that a large number of young Asian men have been stopped by the police.” He added: “This is a period of heightened security around the issue of terrorism and that’s a position that has to be managed. It would be dangerous for us to alienate whole communities.”