The proportion of reported hate crimes being prosecuted has plummeted from a quarter to less than one in 10 in the past six years, The Independent can reveal.
Despite attacks reported to police more than doubling to a record of 103,400 in the same period, the number of suspects charged has been steadily falling to just 9,500 in 2018-19, according to an analysis of Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures.
Prosecutors blame the drop on police, who have been referring fewer cases to be considered for charges.
But the CPS also introduced an 85 per cent target for hate crime convictions in 2013-14.
Like other “levels of ambition”, it was not publicised by the CPS and critics argue the targets may have influenced behaviour by both police and prosecutors.
Reports of hate crime have surged in recent years, hitting peaks during the 2016 EU referendum, the 2017 London and Manchester terrorist attacks, and debates about Brexit in parliament.
Campaigners have been calling for perpetrators to be punished as a deterrent but statistics show they are increasingly likely to walk free.
Nik Noone, chief executive at LGBT+ charity Galop, called the fall in prosecutions “concerning”.
He told The Independent: “The significant rise in recorded hate crime rightfully should bring the expectation of more cases reaching the CPS, not less.
“All victims of hate crime should have the right of fair and equal access to justice and to get the support they need. This is especially pressing given the significant rise in transphobia, homophobia and all forms of hate crime, according to recent Home Office statistics.”
The Community Security Trust, a charity that records antisemitic hate crimes, said it had discussed the “growing gap” between recorded offences and convictions with authorities.
“We are encouraged that the police and CPS are keen to identify the reasons for this shortfall and it is important that the gap is not allowed to continue to grow,” said policy director Dave Rich.
Tell Mama, an organisation that documents Islamophobic incidents, said that although prosecution rates have remained broadly level, fewer cases were being passed to prosecutors.
Director Iman Atta OBE said: “We need to review why referrals to the CPS have dropped from police forces.”
A Home Office document said the way police record offences has improved and that growing awareness of hate crime has increased reports.
But the report said there have been “short-term genuine rises in hate crime following certain events such as the EU referendum in June 2016 and the terrorist attacks in 2017”, adding: “Part of the increase may reflect a real rise in hate crimes.”
Official figures show the number of hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales has hit a new record after rising from 44,500 in 2013-14 to 103,379 last year.
But the number of cases passed on to prosecutors has dropped from more than 14,000 to 11,800 – seeing the rate plummet from 31 per cent of reported incidents to just 11 per cent.
Both the proportion of referred cases charged by the CPS (80 per cent) and those convicted (84 per cent) have stayed broadly stable in the period.
The CPS said police referrals were falling across the spectrum of criminal offences, dropping by a fifth overall in the past five years.
Police sources said that no suspects are identified in many reported hate crimes, and that some are dealt with through out-of-court disposals that do not require a criminal charge.
The identification of suspects has been made more difficult by the use of anonymous accounts to send abuse and threats online.
The CPS “level of ambition” for hate crime saw regional divisions judged against an 85 per cent target for convictions, which was much higher than the bar set for other crimes such as rape.
The Independent understands the calculation was based on an average of CPS units across England and Wales, and that the figure was higher because most hate crimes are summary offences dealt with by magistrates and receive guilty pleas.
The CPS said such targets were used to track the outcome of cases with vulnerable victims, but were replaced by different performance measures for accuracy in 2017-18.
A spokesperson added: “We want all victims of hate crime to have the confidence that every case referred to the CPS will be fully examined and, whenever the evidence supports, charged and fairly prosecuted.
“There has been a growing gap between the number of hate crimes reported to the police and the number of cases being sent by forces to the CPS for a charging decision for a number of years. Prosecutors are working closely with the police to understand the reasons for this fall.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said it welcomed increased reports of hate crime as an indication that victims had more confidence in officers.
“We recognise that these crimes have a damaging impact on victims and will continue to bring offenders to justice where there is evidence to do so,” a spokesperson added.
“There is a responsibility on us all to think carefully and be temperate in how we communicate to each other, in addition to protecting our diverse communities.
“Police will take all reports of threats and abuse seriously and will continue to work with criminal justice partners to improve outcomes for victims.”
The government is establishing a royal commission on the criminal justice system in order to “deliver a fundamental review of the key issues affecting the system” and “make it more efficient and effective”.
A Downing Street briefing on the Queen’s Speech was criticised for failing to mention nine years of budget cuts imposed on police and the Ministry of Justice since 2010.
Just 7.4 per cent of all crimes reported in England and Wales now result in a prosecution, according to Home Office figures, while the number of people being punished for offences has hit a record low.