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Hate crime soared to record levels in most areas after Brexit vote

Record levels of hate crime were reported by three-quarters of police forces in England and Wales in the aftermath of last year's EU referendum, new analysis has shown.

In some areas the number of incidents jumped by more than 50%.

A human rights organisation has said the country should prepare for the possibility of further spikes in offences once the Brexit process has begun.

However Ukip leader Paul Nuttall has said that such incidents have been "overblown" in an attempt to "rubbish Brexit".

The figures, compiled by the Press Association, provide the first complete picture of hate crime recorded by police in England and Wales following the referendum on June 23.

They show that in the three months ending September 2016:

:: 33 out of 44 forces recorded the highest quarterly number of hate crimes since comparable records began in April 2012

:: Three forces each recorded more than 1,000 hate crimes: the Metropolitan Police (3,356), Greater Manchester (1,033) and West Yorkshire (1,013)

:: Only four forces reported a decrease on the previous three months

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said the findings suggested a small number of people used the Brexit vote "to legitimise inexcusable racism and prejudice", while the charity Victim Support said that more needed to be done to encourage victims to come forward.

Provisional figures on hate crimes published by the Home Office in October 2016 suggested that offences in July 2016 were 41% higher than in July 2015.

The new analysis shows that a rise in incidents was seen in almost every force in England and Wales, both year-on-year and when comparing the three months either side of the referendum.

The Press Association also cross-referenced data on offences with the results of the EU referendum to see if there was any pattern to the level of hate crime.

In 36 police force areas, a majority of voters backed Leave in the referendum - and the quarterly hate crime figure rose in all of them except two.

The area with the biggest Leave vote, Lincolnshire, saw hate crimes jump by 59%.

But the figures do not suggest a trend across the country. Two forces that covered areas with a large Remain vote - Merseyside and Thames Valley - recorded rises in hate crime of 19% and 20% respectively.

David Isaac, chairman of the EHRC, said it "must be sensible to prepare for any possible spikes" in hate crime once Brexit negotiations got under way.

"The vast majority of people who voted to leave the European Union did so because they believed it was best for Britain and not because they are intolerant of others," he said.

"It is clear, however, that a small minority of people used the Brexit vote to legitimise inexcusable racism and prejudice. We cannot allow such intolerable acts of hate to be condoned or repeated.

"The triggering of Article 50 is the next major milestone and we must do all we can to discourage hate attacks and to support people who feel at risk."

Mr Nuttall dismissed evidence of a spike in hate crimes in the wake of the referendum, saying it followed a pattern seen after other major national events.

"A lot of that [rise in hate crimes] is fabricated," he told The Independent, although he admitted some incidents had taken place.

He said: "Of course there will be individual instances and people should never be victims of hate crime at all.

"I've said this in the chamber in the European Parliament, my heart goes out to those people who have been victims, but I think a lot of this has been overblown specifically to try to rubbish Brexit."

There was a 6% rise recorded by police in Staffordshire, where Mr Nuttall is a candidate in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election.

Lucy Hastings, director at Victim Support, said the charity last year supported 16,000 victims of hate crime in England and Wales and confirmed a spike in referrals in the immediate aftermath of the referendum.

She said the rise could be linked to increased publicity about hate crimes, which "encouraged more people to report or seek support".

"Hate crime has no place in our society and every victim of this crime is one too many," she said.

"We believe that more needs to be done to further encourage reporting. This includes making third-party hate crime units more accessible to the public."

The Home Office said Britain had some of the strongest legislation on hate crime anywhere in the world.

"The Home Secretary has been crystal clear that crime motivated by hostility and prejudice towards any group in society has no place whatsoever in a Britain that works for everyone," a spokesman said.

:: The Press Association compiled its figures from open data published by every police force in England and Wales. Comparable data is not available for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The National Police Chiefs' Council lead for hate crime, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, said spikes in hate crime were linked to the Brexit vote and other incidents such as terror attacks in the US and France.

But he said increased awareness was also a factor in the increased reporting.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "There is increased awareness, and that's part of the strategy, and associated to that, increased reporting.

"But we also accept that given the spike that occurred after the referendum that there would have been increased incidents of this type of behaviour, and we have seen this occur in correlation with national or international issues, these sort of spikes that occur in the actual occurrence and reporting of hate crimes."

Asked if the Brexit vote led to more hate crime, he replied: "We did say at the time that some people had felt that the referendum had given them a licence to carry out additional hate crime activity, which is entirely, entirely to be condemned."

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