Misogyny should not be treated as hate crime, police chief says

‘We just do not have the resources to do everything that is desirable and deserving,’ National Police Chiefs’ Council chair says

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent, in Westminster
Wednesday 31 October 2018 12:24 GMT
Home Secretary promises police increased powers and better protection

One of the UK’s most senior police officers has said she does not want to see misogyny and misandry classed as hate crimes as “stretched” forces struggle to cope with existing demand.

Chief constable Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), called for a return to “core policing” amid a nationwide rise in recorded crime and violence.

She argued that although treating misogyny as a hate crime “is a concern for some well-organised campaigning organisations”, police should focus their limited resources elsewhere.

Speaking to a joint conference of the NPCC and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Ms Thornton said the public rightly expect “the basics – responding to emergencies, investigating and solving crime and neighbourhood policing”.

“I want us to solve more burglaries and bear down on violence before we make more records of incidents that are not crimes,” she added. “I hope that the Law Commission’s review on hate crime takes account of the pressure on forces before suggesting the law is changed.”

Campaigners who have called on police and politicians to recognise misogyny as a crime argue that it would help tackle the “root causes” of violence against women and map the true scale of harassment.

Martha Jephcott, leader of Citizens UK, told The Independent she was “disappointed” with Ms Thornton’s response.

“Given the endemic levels of harassment and abuse, police risk undermining public trust if they don’t take misogyny seriously,” she said.

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“Misogyny has been a recorded hate crime for several years in Nottingham, with good cooperation with the police and a positive impact on women’s perceptions of a safer city.”

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “All we are asking is that abuse and harassment aimed at women, because they are women, should be taken seriously for what it is – a hate crime.

“The police need to have resources to carry out the responsibilities society demands of them. But they cannot abdicate their responsibility to women. We have to start taking misogyny seriously.”

The Law Commission is considering whether crimes motivated by hostility towards women and men should be brought under hate crime laws that currently cover race, religion, gender identity, sexuality and disability.

Its recommendations will be considered by the government, which could draw up legislation to change the law.

Ms Thornton said police will comply with any new offences approved by parliament.

“We all think misogyny and misandry are an issue,” she told journalists. “I’m questioning whether a criminal offence is the best way of dealing with what is essentially an issue about how we all treat each other.”

In July, chief constables debated whether they should record gender-based abuse that is not currently a crime, following a pilot carried out by Nottinghamshire Police since 2016.

“It was argued that this information might be useful to highlight the issue, send a message about acceptable standards of behaviour or to put pressure on government,” Ms Thornton said. “But we just do not have the resources to do everything that is desirable and deserving.”

The senior officer, who is to stand down as NPCC chair next year, said historic investigations were also taking resources away from dealing with current offences.

“While I understand those who have been harmed seek answers, I remain unconvinced that it is appropriate to commit significant resources to investigating allegations against those who have died,” she added, following the high-profile investigations into child abuse allegations against figures including Ted Heath.

More than 20,000 police officers have been lost since 2010 amid years of government cuts to police budgets, which are now starting to reverse.

Last week, the Home Affairs Committee warned of “dire consequences for public safety and criminal justice” if the government does not increase funding for struggling British police forces.

Sajid Javid has vowed to fight for more money in a government-wide spending review, but officers were angered by a lack of funding for general policing in the budget.

The latest police figures show knife crime at a record high, murder at the highest point for a decade and rises in robbery, vehicle theft and other offences.

Arrests have halved in a decade and the proportion of offences resulting in someone being charged has plummeted to 9 per cent.

Ms Thornton said that although some drivers of crime lie beyond policing, “more police and more police activity would surely result in less crime”.

The government has not accepted claims that falling police officer numbers and budget cuts have partly caused the rise in crime and worsening outcomes.

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(ONS (ONS)

Speaking to the police conference on Wednesday, the home secretary said crime was “changing faster than we could ever have anticipated” as reports of domestic abuse, modern slavery and child sexual offences rocket.

“I know you are feeling stretched, I recognise that demand has risen and you are grappling with your budgets,” Mr Javid said. “I want to do something about it.”

He said the government was spending £1bn more on policing than it did three years ago and working on a new annual funding settlement to be announced in December.

Mr Javid repeated a vow to fight for more money for police in a separate government-wide spending review, but added: “If we are to make the case for more funding this has to go hand in hand with further reforms.”

“Money is not the only issue, it is not all about resources,” the home secretary said, pledging to make stop and search powers easier to use

“Not all forces are where they need to be, some could be more effective.”

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, has launched legal action against the government over a “derisory” 2 per cent pay rise, and forces have also been told that a £420m pensions shortfall must be met from their budgets.

Mr Javid, whose brother is a senior police officer, said the Treasury has now agreed to cover some but there is a “big chunk” of around £165m remaining, which will be considered in the financial settlement.

He repeated the call for a focus on “core policing” and said forces should be supporting frontline officers, preventing crime, cutting capability gaps, assessing their own effectiveness and building a “more tech-savvy and less fragmented” system that makes smarter use of resources.

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