Level of hate crime in NI could be five times higher than thought due to under-reporting
Race hate crime could be five times worse in Northern Ireland than records suggest due to under-reporting, according to the PSNI.
Under-reporting of hate crimes means there could potentially have been up to 10,000 racist incidents here since the Brexit vote compared to the 2,093 incidents recorded by the PSNI.
"We know it's an under-reported crime, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said.
"The national comparisons have been running around four to five times less reporting than the actual crimes reported to be.
"We haven't got the same comparative figures for Northern Ireland, but I would expect them to be broadly similar."
The number of racist attacks reported remains significantly lower than other UK regions, despite authorities fearing a fresh Brexit spike in hate crimes against migrant communities.
As we inch closer to a no-deal Brexit in the wake of this week's defeat of the Prime Minister's withdrawal deal, there are concerns it could heighten tensions.
However, an analysis of race hate figures indicates that, unlike other regions in the UK, Northern Ireland has not seen a rise in race hate attacks against ethnic minority communities since the vote to exit the European Union.
The Detail has looked at race hate crime statistics in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in that period.
They show that in the three months following the referendum in June 2016, police forces in England and Wales recorded a significant spike of 14,381 racist crimes.
In contrast, the number of PSNI-recorded racist crimes for the same three-month period in the summer of 2016 was 251.
Clearance levels of race hate crimes here also remain significantly lower than those of other non-racially motivated crimes.
ACC Hamilton is the UK's most senior police officer in charge of tackling race hate crime.
He confirmed that police forces across the UK are now preparing for a potential spike in racial attacks ahead of Brexit on March 29.
However, he insists there is no available evidence to suggest that this will happen in Northern Ireland.
"The Brexit vote led to a spike in hate crime in England and Wales," he said.
"The analysis would be that this came from people who supported the UK leaving the EU, so the day we leave the EU you might see similar, almost triumphalist hate behaviour."
He is also fearful that some hardline pro-Brexit elements could resort to violence against ethnic minority communities if the decision to withdraw from the EU is not enacted on March 29.
PSNI statistics show that race hate has overtaken sectarian crime here in recent years.
Since the UK vote to leave the EU in 2016, there have been 2,093 recorded racist incidents locally.
In the same period there were 1,773 recorded incidents of sectarianism.
However, there are concerns that the true number of racially motivated attacks here may be much higher.
Veteran human rights campaigner Bernadette McAliskey works closely with migrant families in counties Tyrone and Armagh.
"Nobody has reliable statistics on racist attacks because there is no coherent standard reporting mechanism," she pointed out.
"Take racist graffiti painted on windows and walls of vacant houses.
"It is clearly racist behaviour. Immigrants are afraid to accept a tenancy. Private landlords are intimidated from offering properties (to ethnic minority families)."
Mrs McAliskey says the incidents are often recorded as anti-social crime rather than racially motivated attacks. While there are specific race hate offences available to police forces in England and Wales, there are no similar specific racial offences available to the PSNI.
ACC Hamilton believes that race hate legislation here needs to be brought into line with the rest of the UK.
"If somebody walks up to a black person in the street in England and assaults them and we believe that to demonstrate hostility because of their colour, that's a specific offence.
"Here, it isn't. Here it's just an assault.
"Then we invite the court to consider the fact that it's been aggravated by (hate)."
Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) deputy director Daniel Holder believes the way in which the PSNI records hate crime fails to identify paramilitary orchestration in racial attacks. However, ACC Hamilton said finding actual evidence of paramilitary orchestration was difficult.
"Have I ever seen this notion of organised hate behaviour? No, I have never seen it," he said.
"Are there people who are involved in hate crime in the communities who I would associate with paramilitary groups? Yes, I would, absolutely."
The latest police statistics recorded until December 2018 show that only 12.6% of reported racially motivated crime is solved by the PSNI compared to 26.9% of reported non-racially motivated crime.
ACC Hamilton admitted that more can be achieved.
"The only consolation I would give people is that I do believe that it's better here in the UK than it is anywhere else in the world," he added.