Anti-racism chief calls for zero tolerance

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The Independent Online

The new head of the Commission for Racial Equality called on the police and courts yesterday to take a tougher approach to racists after police figures showed the number of reported race crimes has doubled in the past year. Gurbux Singh, the commission chairman, said: "I want to see better policing, better protection and better prosecution."

Figures from the Metropolitan Police Service show that in the year up to April the number of reported racial incidents more than doubled to 23,300, the equivalent of 63 per day. The incidents include assaults, verbal abuse and harassment.

While the national figures for this year are not yet available, Mr Singh said the London figures pointed to a "massive" rise across the country in recorded racial incidents.

He called for a "zero-tolerance policy" on racists. "Lenient verdicts just send out a message that it is all right to be a racist, that the establishment does not care, and that those crimes will not attract severe penalties," he said.

"My job is to make sure that the police never again place a lower priority on catching those who victimise other human beings just because of the colour of their skin. The police must take racist incidents seriously ... We need to send a clear message to the racists that they will be caught and prosecuted."

He also called for more emphasis on tackling "poor education, poor housing and poor social services that specifically affect ethnic minority communities and individuals".

A spokesperson for the CRE said: "We have heard a lot of rhetoric about improvements in race relations and the criminal justice system; it is time for the Government to deliver on those promises."

But the Met defended its performance on race-related crime, saying the figures reflected greater public awareness of the issue. "Following the criticism levelled at the Metropolitan Police Service for the handling of race crime there has been a massive programme of change, which has resulted in a steady but significant increase in recorded race crime," a spokeswoman said.

"Not only does this reflect the improved recognition of this type of crime but it also shows a growth in community confidence."

Ethnic minority monitor groups have expressed concern that politicians' use of the "race card" in the run-up to local elections and newspaper claims that "bogus" asylum- seekers were "flooding" the country have been responsible for a surge in race crimes.

The commission is hoping laws contained in the forthcoming Race Relations (Amendment) Bill will provide anti-racism campaigners with a powerful tool to force change. The legislation will require public authorities, including the police, to set race targets and employ people from all sections of the community.

"The Home Secretary must give us the powers to make sure we can implement, monitor and enforce the new legislation," Mr Singh said.