Cracks in the fabric of society: MPs call for new laws to tackle wave of violence: Racial Hatred

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A RISING tide of race attacks and racial hatred is threatening the fabric of British society, an all-party committee of MPs reported yesterday.

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said in a report on racism that urgent action, including new laws, was needed to combat the growing problem.

The police, the Government, and the Crown Prosecution Service all came under strong criticism by the committee for failing to address aspects of the issue.

The report concluded: 'We are in no doubt that racial attacks and harassment, and the spread of literature which preaches racial hatred, are increasing and must be stopped. More can be done. . .

'If racism is allowed to grow unchecked, it will begin to corrode the fabric of our open and tolerant society. As racism is spreading so rapidly, time is short,' it added.

The committee's 38 recommendations include the creation of a new offence of racially-motivated violence, which would carry a five-year maximum jail sentence. It also said the offence of racial harassment should carry a 12-month maximum prison sentence instead of the current maximum pounds 1,000 fine.

There were an estimated 140,000 incidents in 1992, of which only 7,000 or 8,000 were reported to the police. However racist attacks and harassment represented less than 2 per cent of all crime. The low level of reporting was partly because some black people believe the police are racist and fail to take complaints seriously, said the committee, which is chaired by the Conservative MP Sir Ivan Lawrence.

The police service, however, had taken 'considerable steps' to combat racism in its ranks, the report said. But the committee emphasised that more should be done to encourage black people to join the police. Only 1.53 per cent of the officers in England and Wales were black - less than a quarter of the proportion of the country's ethnic population. In Kent there are only 11 black officers out of 3,171.

The Home Office was criticised for its 'half-hearted and belated' response to a recommendation made five years ago for a survey to examine racial attacks, and called on the Government to improve exisiting research.

Committee members also attacked the Government's refusal to toughen the law against racially motivated violence and racial harassment.

The Crown Prosecution Service was admonished for failing to monitor the outcome of cases of racial attack or harassment, as it was asked to do five years ago. The CPS had begun monitoring last year, but it was a 'poor response' and their system was 'flawed'.

Extreme right-wing organisations were creating an atmosphere of hatred, but the committee said banning them was not the answer.

It reported: 'We are alarmed by evidence presented to us of the growth in the number of racial attacks, not only on immigrant communities but also on traditional established Jewish communities. . .'

The report follows a court case on Monday in which three men were jailed for a total of more than 11 years for beating, stabbing and running over a black man with a car in east London because he was with a white woman.

In another recent case, which was criticised for its leniency by anti-racist groups, an official of the British National Party was given a three-month jail sentence after being convicted for his part in a savage attack on a black man.