Hate crimes involving racial and religious discrimination have soared at an unprecedented rate since the Brexit vote, The Independent can reveal, prompting warnings that minority groups feel “more vulnerable than ever”.
Police figures obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests show incidents surged by 23 per cent – from 40,741 to 49,921 – in the 11 months after the EU referendum, compared with the same period the previous year, marking an unparallelled rise.
Eleven of the 32 police forces in England and Wales that responded to the FOI requests saw reports of race and faith-based hate crimes increase by more than 40 per cent, with several regions including Gwent, Nottinghamshire and Kent soaring by more than half in a year.
The record figures consolidate previous indications that the Leave vote on 23 June last year prompted a wave of hate crimes based on religion and ethnicity, and have lead to calls for the Government to “urgently” review its response to such reports.
Gwent in Wales saw the highest increase, with the number of incidents rising by 77 per cent, from 367 to 649. Reports of racially and religiously aggravated hate crimes also rose considerably in Kent (66 per cent, from 874 to 1,452), Warwickshire (65 per cent, 286 to 471) and Nottinghamshire (57 per cent, 681 to 1,071).
The number increased in every region except the City of London, which is the smallest territorial police force in England and Wales, both in terms of geographic area and head count.
Previous Home Office figures reported that race and faith-based hate crimes had decreased by 0.4 per cent in 2011/12, before climbing by seven per cent the following year, 16 per cent in 2014 and 17 per cent in 2015 — making the latest 22 per cent figure an unprecedented annual rise.
It comes after previous figures showed that in the months following the EU referendum, hate crimes to regional police forces rose considerably.
Incidents reported in the past year have included a Muslim woman being dragged along the pavement by her hijab, two Polish men being attacked in the street, killing one of them, and a Muslim man and woman being squirted with acid, leaving them with life-changing injuries.
When informed of the new figures, faith groups and organisations representing foreign nationalities told The Independent they had noticed a “significant” rise in race and faith-based hate crimes to the extent that they had become a UK-wide phenomenon, and urged the Government to take “urgent” action to review their approach to such crimes.
Speaking specifically on hate crime against Muslims, Iman Atta, director of Tell MAMA, said: “We have seen significant rises in hate incidents and crimes against Muslim communities in areas such as Greater Manchester, Kent, Liverpool and Wales, and these correlate with the findings of The Independent through an FOI request.
“The reality is that anti-Muslim hatred is no longer isolated to pockets of the United Kingdom, and it is a phenomenon that affects mainly visible Muslims at a street level, with the vast majority of victims being women and perpetrators male.
“We cannot also deny the fact that anti-Muslim sentiment has been amplified heavily through far right anti-Muslim networks, and these need to be shut down and challenged and social media companies have far more to do in this area.”
Founder of Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), Sufyan Ismail, added that the recent terror attacks had also provoked a spike in hate crime which will have contributed to the new figures.
“Our Islamophobia Response Unit has seen a considerable rise is hate crime cases reported to us; many Muslims are feeling more vulnerable than ever,” Mr Ismail said.
“We have dealt with 23 cases alone since the April attacks. The nature of these cases we have seen have varied from a large FTSE 100 company summarily dismissing their Muslim employees, to attacks on public transport, and a number of schools denying their pupils prayer facilities.
“We call upon the government to urgently review incitement to religious hatred legislation, as it’s currently unworkable and thus efficiently exploited the far-right and elements of right-wing press to continually demonise Muslims and stir up intense hatred against them.”
One victim of such hate crime is Nahella Ashraf, 46, who was wearing a headscarf when she was racially assaulted and spat on by a stranger as she sat in a restaurant in London earlier this year.
Ms Ashraf, from Manchester, told The Independent she was left “shaken” after a man sitting behind her, who was “smartly dressed and well put together,” grabbed her from the side and tried to pull her out of her seat, before launching a barrage of racist remarks and spitting in her face.
“We’d been in there for about 45 minutes and we’d all finished eating. There was a guy sat behind me. I assumed he was getting up to leave but he grabbed me and was screaming at me,” she said.
“He just grabbed me from the side, my arm. It felt like he was trying to pull me out of my seat. The first thing I remember him saying was something about him not tolerating people like me. Right in my face.”
She added: “It was racist. He kept saying ‘those kinds of people’. He could’ve grabbed the white woman on the side of me that would’ve been easier, but he went for the Muslim woman in the crowd.”
Ms Ashraf, who is a member of campaign organisation Stand Up To Racism, said she and her Muslim friends had noticed a marked rise in hate crime against them since the Brexit vote: “I think we’ve seen more since the referendum, there’s no doubt about it. But definitely over the last couple of years we’ve become more cautious when we’re out and about.
“A lot of Muslims I know, especially my female Muslim friends, have commented on how it’s gotten worse. We’re a bit more careful about where we go. We’re an easy target nowadays.”
The increase in racially and religiously aggravated crimes have also been felt by EU nationals, many of whom have noticed heightened antagonism against them.
In August 2016, the Polish Embassy in London has said it was “shocked and deeply concerned” by reports of xenophobic abuse directed against the Polish community following the Brexit vote. Two months later, a Polish man was attacked and killed in a suspected hate crime.
Nicolas Hatton, co-founder of campaign group The3Million, which represents EU nationals in the UK, said they had also noted a rise in Europeans being targeted by a “small minoritiy” of British people since the EU referendum, and urged that this rise “lies strongly” with the Government.
“British people didn't vote against EU citizens, but to leave the EU. Having said that, the refusal of the Prime Minister to guarantee the rights of EU citizens encouraged a small minorities of white disfranchised British to behave pathetically,” said Mr Hatton.
Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, the region that saw the biggest increase in race and faith hate crime, observed that some groups had "undoubtedly" used events such as the Leave vote to fuel hate crime attacks.
“We have seen an increase in the reporting of hate crime in Gwent over the last year. In some respects, this is to be welcomed as hate crimes were traditionally underreported across the UK. It provides a clear indication that people have more confidence in reporting crimes of this nature," Mr Cuthbert told The Independent.
“The increase could be attributed to a number of factors. Some groups have undoubtedly used events such as the decision to leave the EU and recent terror attacks as an opportunity to spread their message of hatred, division and intolerance. However, hate crime will not be tolerated in Gwent and there will be consequences for the perpetrators.”
The figures showed that reports in South Yorkshire rose by 57 per cent and Hertfordshire by 44 per cent, while in Merseyside the figure rose by 26 per cent, 18 per cent in Greater Manchester and 15 per cent in London.
The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) said that in response to a rise in hate crime incidents following major events such as Brexit police forces across the country had taken a “robust approached” to addressing such offences, but that any level of hate crime is “unacceptable”.
A spokesman said: “We know that national and global events have the potential to trigger short-terms rises in hate crime, and we saw this following the EU referendum last year. Police forces took a robust approach to addressing these crimes and engaging with communities, and we have typically seen these spikes return to expected levels within a few days.
“Any level of hate crime is too high and unacceptable. We remain committed to helping people feel safe and secure as they go about their lives, so more officers have been deployed on visible patrol routes and forces continue to reach out to all communities to provide reassurance, strengthen our bonds and deal with tensions.
“Victims and those feeling vulnerable should report any incident of hate crime to the police on 101, or using our True Vision website (www.report-it.org.uk). In an emergency, always dial 999.”
Responding to the figures, a Home Office spokesperson said: “Hate crime is not acceptable and those who commit these offences should be prosecuted. Our Hate Crime Action Plan has encouraged further action against hate crime across the police and criminal justice system.
“This includes encouraging more victims of hate crime to report it to the police. The plan also aims to challenge the beliefs and misperceptions that lead to hate crime and to support victims.”