Reported race attacks double in five years: Police figures prompt calls for separate offence of harassment

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The Independent Online
REPORTED incidents of racial violence have increased sharply in the past year and doubled in the last five years, a new survey of police forces in England and Wales shows.

In some regions the number of reported racial incidents, including assaults, threats and vandalism, have risen by up to 20-fold. Racist abuse has doubled since 1988 to more than 8,700 cases in 1993 - an increase of about 1,000 on the previous year.

The Labour Party, which published the offical police figures yesterday, called for new laws to clamp down on racist attacks. It is urging the Government to introduce legislation to make racial harassment a separate offence.

Labour also wants racial motivation to be made a compulsory factor in cases of violence - which would force courts to give tougher sentences when proven. At present it is optional.

Labour plans to table an amendment at the Report Stage of the Criminal Justice Bill in the Commons. Hartley Booth, the Tory MP, unsuccessfully sought a Second Reading for such a measure last week.

According to statistics from 42 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, there was a 13 per cent rise in racial incidents over the previous year. There have been dramatic increases in areas such as Greater Manchester, which rose from 28 in 1988 to 577 last year. The increase from 1992 to last year was more than 40 per cent.

The Metropolitan Police, which accounts for about 40 per cent of incidents, rose from more than 3,200 cases in 1992 to an estimated 3,550 last year. The force has reported a rise of nearly 300 per cent in reported racial incidents on the Isle of Dogs in east London since the election last September of a far-right British National Party councillor in a local ward.

Other forces to show sharp rises from 1992 to 1993 included Hampshire, Avon and Somerset, Essex, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and South Wales. The West Midlands, West Yorkshire and Durham have shown a decrease.

The Home Office says the number of reported incidents may have risen during the past five years because of the increased confidence and awareness among ethnic minority groups, who are now more willing to contact the police.

Yesterday's figures, however, still only give a snapshot of the true scale of racist abuse in Britain. Peter Lloyd, Minister of State at the Home Office, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee which is investigating Racial Attacks and Harassment, said that there could be as many as 130,000 racial incidents every year.

The Anti-Racist Alliance estimates that in the past two years 14 people have died as a result of racial attacks, however no official figures is known because such murders are not recorded separately.

Tony Blair, the shadow Home Secretary, said: 'Given that the number of incidents reported are a tiny fraction of the actual number, there could be anywhere between 150,000 and 200,000 such incidents each year, and many of them will involve serious physical violence.' He said tougher penalties would not be the only result: 'It would also send out a very clear signal from Parliament. We need to send out the clearest possible signal that racial violence and harassment will not be tolerated.'

Joan Ruddock, a Labour home affairs spokeswoman, yesterday called on the Government to investigate the growth in fascist parties in Britain and their link with the rise in racist incidents.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has said he is prepared to consider making changes to the Public Order Act regarding racial verbal abuse and harrassment, but he believes that a separate offence of racial violence would make it harder to convict someone.

(Graphs omitted)