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Hate crimes in schools in region affected by anti-LGBT+ protests surge

A primary school at centre of row has reported ‘homophobic’ footage and far-right mail to police

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Sunday 04 August 2019 19:31 BST
Protesters demonstrate against lessons about gay relationships in Birmingham in March
Protesters demonstrate against lessons about gay relationships in Birmingham in March (PA)

The number of hate crimes in schools and colleges in the county affected by protests against LGBT+ lessons has surged by more than 50 per cent in just one year, The Independent can reveal.

The rise comes as one of the schools at the centre of a row over equality lessons has reported “homophobic” footage and far-right “Islamophobic” mail to the police.

The data, from freedom of information requests, has prompted calls for a stronger government response against the demonstrations to counteract a “worrying” rise in hate crime.

Hate crime offences recorded by West Midlands police, involving children aged 17 and under in and near to schools and colleges, have risen by 52 per cent – from 44 in 2017-18 to 67 in 2018-19.

The figures come after months of protests from parents and campaigners outside Parkfield Community School and Anderton Park School in Birmingham over the age-appropriateness of LGBT+ lessons.

During the period when schools started receiving complaints about LGBT+ teaching, from December 2018 to May, the number of police reports of hate crime in the West Midlands area more than doubled (a 129 per cent rise) compared to the same six-month period the year before.

Hate crimes in schools in London have also risen in the past year but only by 3 per cent, the data reveals.

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, head of Anderton Park School, which faced protests for nine weeks, believes the demonstrations at the Birmingham schools could have fuelled a rise in offences in the county.

She told The Independent that the scale of the problem is likely to be even greater than the figures suggest as offensive incidents that occurred outside the school could not be listed as hate crimes.

For example, the headteacher says protesters held banners saying “Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve” and said misogynistic things like “women were created for man’s pleasure”.

“It is just horrific but none of these things apparently pass the threshold for being arrestable,” Ms Hewitt-Clarkson said. “I think it is time to look at what hate crime actually means.”

West Midlands police are reviewing a large amount of material, including pictures and video, relating to recent protests at the Birmingham primary school. But there have been no arrests or charges to date.

A “homophobic” clip featuring the headteacher was circulated on a WhatsApp group last month, and in April far-right and anti-Islam material was also posted to Anderton Park Primary school.

The figures on schools only includes victims aged 17 and under, which means teachers and parents affected by hate crimes are not reflected in the data.

However, a separate freedom of information request to the force shows the overall number of hate crimes in the West Midlands has risen by 23 per cent – from 4,686 to 5,770.

Of these incidents, the number of homophobic offences have surged by 41 per cent in a year – from 445 to 627.

Andrew Moffat, a gay teacher who has been at the centre of the row over teaching about families with same-sex parents, said: “I have never experienced homophobia like I have in the last six months.

“[The figures] are extremely worrying. The protests have given a licence to people that think it is okay to shout abuse. I think it is becoming acceptable to stand outside and chant ‘shame’ about a gay teacher.”

Mr Moffatt, assistant head at Parkfield school, has reported a “significant amount” of offences targeting him – both at school and online – to the police. Earlier in the year, he was subjected to a death threat.

Speaking to The Independent, he said: “People are seeing that this is happening and they are not seeing a strong, robust response from the Department for Education or from anyone in fact.

“I am really concerned that there is a culture developing where hate crime is becoming acceptable.”

Chief Inspector Tony Morriss, West Midlands Police’s deputy lead for hate crime, said they could not speculate as to the reasons behind an increase in hate crimes in schools in the past year.

“What we do know is that there is a far greater awareness and understanding that it won’t be tolerated, and that police will take action,” he added.

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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called the figures “disturbing”, adding that the recent protests have exemplified a “heightened sense of social tension.”

He said: “Leaders put strong systems in place to address any type of discriminatory behaviour. They educate young people about the importance of tolerance and respect, and consult with police over any serious incidents which occur.

“But, at a time when it often seems that our society is worryingly divided, and against a backdrop of diminishing resources, this is increasingly challenging.”

Saima Razzaq, from an LGBT+ group set up following the protests, said: “These protests undermine our ability to unite and counter this rise in hate crime against those of all protected characteristics.”

“I urge Gavin Williamson to act on the failures of his predecessor. The government need to be stronger in their guidance for teachers – there is too much pressure on teachers to deliver an equality strategy with so many grey areas – we need to empower teachers.”

A government spokesperson said: “Hate crime is unacceptable in any circumstance or setting and schools should be safe places for children and staff.

“Our country has a proud history of tolerance and that is why we want children to learn the importance of respect for each other.”

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