Islamophobic hate crimes across Britain have risen dramatically this year, new figures have revealed.
Hundreds of offences were perpetrated against the country's Muslim population in 2013, with the Metropolitan police alone - Britain's largest force - recording 500 Islamophobic crimes, compared with 336 incidents in 2012 and 318 in 2011.
A large number of forces across the country reported a particular surge in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby by two Islamic extremists in Woolwich, south-east London.
In May, the month in which Fusilier Rigby was killed, Scotland Yard recorded 104 anti-Muslim hate crimes, followed by a further 108 in June.
The figures were obtained by the Press Association which sent Freedom of Information requests to every police force in England and Wales.
However of the 43 forces, just 24 provided figures on the number of anti-Muslim crimes and incidents recorded - with some forces admitting they do not always record the faith of a religious hate crime victim.
It is therefore likely that the actual numbers of incidents of hate crimes against Muslims perpetrated in 2013 was much higher.
Tell Mama, a group which monitors anti-Muslim incidents, said it has dealt with some 840 cases since just April - with the number expected to rise to more than 1,000 by the end of March.
This compared with 582 anti-Islam cases it dealt with from March 2012 to March 2013.
Fiyaz Mujhal, director of Faith Matters, which runs the Tell Mama project, said reaction to the murder of Fusilier Rigby had caused the number of Islamophobic crimes to “significantly jump”.
“The far right groups, particularly the EDL (English Defence League) perniciously use the Internet and social media to promote vast amounts of online hate,” he added.
Branding guidelines by the Crown Prosecution Service to monitor social media as “not fit for purpose”, Mr Mujhal said tougher sentencing was needed to tackle Islamophobic crime.
“They raised the bar of prosecution significantly,” he said. “Now unless there is a direct threat to somebody on Twitter or Facebook, the CPS will not prosecute. The CPS is just plainly out of sync with reality.
“We also need more robust sentencing. In one case, a pig's head was left outside a mosque and the perpetrator came away with a community sentence. When you target a mosque, you are targeting the whole community.”
Tell Mama also called for police forces to introduce a system which improves monitoring and recording of Islamophobic crimes, ensuring the faith of a religious hate crime victim is recorded.
“There are three problems we come across,” Mr Mujhal said.
“Firstly, there is a lack of understanding of the language of Islamophobia thrown at victims in any incidents.
“Secondly, there is very little training on how to ask relevant questions to pull out anti-Muslim cases.
“Thirdly, recording processes are not in line with each other. One force will allow an officer to flag an incident as anti-Muslim, another force will flag it as religious hate crime. There is no uniformity.
“There must be guidelines for all forces so we can know the level of the problem.”
A CPS spokeswoman said that for online communications, only those that are “grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false” are prohibited in order to “preserve the right to free speech”.
“Online communication can be offensive, shocking or in bad taste. However, as set out in CPS guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media, content has to be more than simply offensive to be contrary to the criminal law,” she said.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has previously said over five days after Fusilier Rigby was murdered 71 anti-Muslim incidents were reported to its national community tension team.
Superintendent Paul Giannasi, Acpo's spokesman on hate crime, said: “The police service is committed to reducing the harm caused by hate crime and it is vital that we encourage more victims who suffer crimes to report them to the police or through third party reporting facilities such as Tell Mama.
“We would obviously want overall crime levels to reduce and to see fewer victims, but we welcome increases in reported hate crime, as long as they are a sign of increased confidence of victims to report.
“We are working with local police forces, to help improve the way we respond to hate crime and to provide robust and transparent hate crime data.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “These are despicable crimes that devastate lives and communities. The courts already hand out tougher punishments where race or religion are found to be aggravating factors.”
“The number of people receiving a custodial sentence for these appalling crimes is higher than ever before.”
Additional reporting from Press Association