Backlash feared as attacks by racists rise: Intolerance and tension are growing in parts of Newcastle. Reports by Jason Bennetto

A DISINTEGRATION in race relations in Newcastle upon Tyne has led to a sharp rise in racist attacks in the city.

Community leaders fear that some areas of the city have become virtual no-go areas for Asian, Chinese and black people and that a backlash will result unless action is taken to ease growing tension.

Inquiries by the Independent have uncovered evidence of increasing racism including:

Police reports of race attack have doubled in the past year.

A growing number of racist incidents at schools, including a recent case in which an Asian boy reportedly had petrol poured on his head and was threatened.

Boys and girls as young as five routinely vandalise homes. Members of one Asian family had their windows smashed 14 times, showering glass on to their sleeping children.

White racists have driven Asians out of once-thriving streets, which are now boarded up and abandoned. Homes once worth pounds 60,000 cannot be sold for pounds 5,000.

Women and children are regularly spat on and abused in streets during the day. Many are now too frightened to leave their homes.

Increasingly violent attacks against black people including several fire bombings of community centres and places of worship.

This depressing picture is found in a part of Britain not usually associated with tension between black and white people. The growth of the far-right British National Party in east London is more well known, as is the deprivation and unrest in Liverpool and Manchester. But leaders of the relatively small ethnic minority groups in the North-east point to the growing culture of racism and hatred developing in parts of Newcastle and surrounding areas.

There are only about 11,000 people from ethnic minorities in Newcastle - just over 4 per cent of the population. The largest group is Asian, with small numbers of Chinese and Afro-Caribbeans. Most of the attacks are taking place in the West End of the city where the Asian population is concentrated. It is a traditional working class area which is closely linked to the former ship-building industry.

Next month, Newcastle City Council will start monitoring attacks and harassment to discover the scale of the problem. Action for Racial Justice, a new group, has set up a 24-hour helpline for people to report racial violence and intimidation. It is receiving about 16 cases a week.

Abdul Malik, its chairman, said: 'Racial harassment is an everyday event for black people in Newcastle. It is undoubtedly becoming more violent and I think we will see black gangs against white ones in the future as the young people become increasingly angry and frustrated.'

He added that much of the black community remained suspicious of the police and local authority which they believed to contain racist elements.

The police had 15 reported cases of racial attacks in January, 16 in February and more than 20 in March - double the rate of last year.

A police spokesman said: 'This is still a relatively low number of incidents, but we take the issue extremely seriously.'

A spokesman for the Shahjalal Mosque and Islamic Centre in Newcastle, said: 'We feel very angry because everybody has the right to live in peace and harmony. We are not a burden on the state, we are paying our way and we have rights as well. The problem is getting worse and is waiting to be ignited.'

'It has reached boiling point and we feel cornered. There's a danger of people retaliating. Matters are getting very serious.'