According to the PSNI’s statistics, hate crime is on the increase in Northern Ireland.
I’m not really surprised that the figures are up if the following story is typical of the sort of incident police officers waste their time on.
Recently, a group of girls in their late twenties, early thirties were travelling by train when one of them got a text message. It was a joke of the Paddy the Irishman type that we all remember. This one also featured Paddy the Pakistani.
The girl read the joke out to her companions — apparently it was even a very funny one — and thought nothing more of it until the train pulled into the station in Belfast. There, they were told by a Northern Ireland Railways employee that they would have to leave the train. They were getting off anyway but asked him why. He said there had been a complaint of racial abuse and they were responsible and would have to get off the train.
So much for innocent until found guilt but no matter.
The girls said they were getting off and going onto a bar for a girlie night out. They had just ordered their drinks and sat down when police arrived in the bar and asked the girls to accompany them outside. They were following up the racial abuse claim.
It seems that the girl of Asian background who made the complaint was also present. The girl who had received the joke text explained what had happened to police. Although she felt she had done no wrong, and certainly did not intend to offend anyone, she offered to apologise to the young woman in question.
That would seem to have been the common sense solution. But sadly common sense was absent that night from the streets of Belfast.
Police informed the girl that prosecution for a hate crime might follow if the offended person continued to pursue her claim.
What utter nonsense and what a waste of, what we are told are, scarce police resources.
It also seems in utter contrast to events last month when four Hungarian women were attacked by a gang of racist thugs in south Belfast and were forced from their home.
When some people went to their aid, they noticed that up to 30 hoods were congregated on the other side of the street, ensuring by their menacing presence that the women would, indeed, leave the area.
By all accounts there was very little interference in events by the local constabulary on that occasion.
And if statistics are anything to go by, the PSNI is not great at solving, never mind, preventing hate crime.
The total number of racist hate crimes in 2008/2009 was up by 11 to 271, of which 96 were cleared, a miserable 12.5 per cent.
And that was a good year. The previous year only 11.4 per cent of racist hate crimes were cleared.
I am not suggesting that the PSNI should not act on complaints of racist behaviour. Indeed, it is good that they do. But to start pursuing a group of girls for reading out a text message — especially when the girl involved offered to apologise unconditionally to the offended party, who obviously had been eavesdropping on their conversation — is madness.
The worst offence was passing on a poor taste joke.
If that is a criminal offence, then most of us are likely to end up in the dock at some stage of our lives.
It is political correctness gone mad.