Prosecutions of race crimes in Britain rise by one-third in a year

A record 4,660 defendants were prosecuted for racially-aggravated offences between March 2004 and March 2005 - up from 3,616 the previous year, a report published today shows. A further 1,128 people accused of race crimes had the case against them dropped, many because witnesses refused to testify or failed to turn up to court. The figures published by the Crown Prosecution Service do not include cases prosecuted since the 7 July attacks in London.

Leaders of Britain's Asian and black communities said the new figures were a source of grave concern. Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, said it was now clear that the "war on terror" had made British Muslims a target for racists.

"I think that a whole (Muslim) community has been identified as the enemy," he said, "and this is the reason why people think it is a fifth-column community and the cause of this country's miseries. Now they want to settle scores by making us scapegoats."

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "These are very troubling figures in that they not only indicate that the number of prosecutions has gone up but that more race-hate crime is being committed. What is of added concern is that these figures are before 7 July. After the bomb attacks in London we saw a spate of racist incidents. What will the figures be next year?

"Whatever happens members of Muslim communities must report the offence immediately to the police so that they do not suffer in silence."

The report shows the number of racist incidents passed to prosecutors by police rose 22 per cent to 5,788 year-on-year. Most were assaults, criminal damage or public order offences, but the figures also contained four murders.

The number of cases handed over by police has more than doubled from 2,417 in 1999-2000, the first year after race was made an aggravating factor in crime.

The figures include the youngest person ever to be convicted of a racially aggravated crime. A boy from Kent - who was 13 at the time of the offence - was convicted of racially aggravated criminal damage and assault in 2004. He slashed a black road sweeper across the face with a knife after attacking him with a golf club.

Another disturbing case concerned a man who pleaded guilty to making more than 90 calls to numerous synagogues in north London, threatening to blow them up, and being abusive. It was the largest number of racially motivated offences the CPS ever had to deal with for one person. After psychiatric reports he was sentenced last year to a three-year community rehabilitation order and treatment at a drug and alcohol centre.

The report also showed that the number of religiously-aggravated cases dropped to 34 from 49 the year before. But in 67 per cent of the religious cases, the victim was Muslim.

Among religiously-aggravated offences, the "actual or perceived" religion of the victim was Muslim in 23 out of 34 cases, Christian in four, Hindu in two and Mormon in one. In four cases the religion was unknown.

Sir Iqbal said that while he welcomed a fall in number of religious crime figures he was "very worried" that two-thirds of the victims were Muslim, a marked increase from last year.

Ken Macdonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said the CPS had worked hard to give victims confidence that their cases would be treated properly.

"Last year many CPS areas moved to working with the police, giving on-the-spot legal advice and helping to construct trial-ready cases," he said.

"Compared to the last set of figures, 8 per cent fewer racially-aggravated charges were dropped because of insufficient evidence. We have also worked hard to ensure that with our new IT systems that racist crime prosecutions are properly recorded."

But Raj Joshi, vice-chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, said: "The figures prove that there is a lot of talk of policy initiatives and about sympathy but there is little comfort for the black and minority ethnic community."

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