Twelve years after the Lawrence murder, racist incidents increase

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The Independent Online

Given that many cases of intimidation and abuse are likely to go unreported, the true scale of the problem is probably far higher. The British Crime Survey estimates that there are more than 200,000 racially motivated incidents every year.

Official figures suggest that the country is in the grip of a rapidly growing crime wave aimed at ethnic minorities. The numbers of racially-motivated incidents in England and Wales have quadrupled since Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in 1993.

In 2003-04, police examined 52,994 racist incidents, a 7 per cent increase on the previous year and four times as many as in 1996-7. More than 35,000 fell into the more serious category, including wounding, assault and harassment. Only 2,520 of those ended in a conviction or a caution.

About one-third of the offences were committed in London, with large numbers also in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and Lancashire.

However, the grim statistics disguise a more complicated picture.

The damning Macpherson report in 1999 into police failings in the Stephen Lawrence investigation included a recommendation that a racist incident should be defined as any "which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person".

The recommendation was accepted by the Government and the number of offences defined as racially-motivated immediately soared.

The Home Office puts the increase down to better recording by police and the fact that community groups encourage people to report attacks and abuse.

However, there is no disguising the increase in anti-Semitic assaults in recent years or the surge in attacks on mosques and individual Muslims since the attacks of 11 September 2001.

Richard Garside, director of the Crime and Society Foundation, said: "It's hard to tell whether the sharp rises in racially motivated offences reflect a real increase in such incidents, better police recording, or both. Whatever the truth of the matter, people are being targeted because of the colour of their skin. There is a deeply-rooted culture of racism which pervades British society from top to bottom."

The charity Victim Support will this week disclose that it helped 22,000 people who had been the target of racially-motivated attack or abuse in the last calendar year. For much of the 1990s it dealt with about 3,000 victims of race crime a year, climbing to 10,000 by the end of the decade.

Rising toll

Racist incidents reported to police in England and Wales

1996-7: 13,151

1997-8: 13,878

1998-9: 23,049

1999-2000: 47,814

2000-01: 53,092

2001-02: 54,370

2002-03: 49,078

2003 -04: 52,694