Racially and religiously aggravated offences recorded by police in England and Wales hit a new high in 2020, with more than a quarter of investigations closed without forces identifying a suspect, analysis shows.
The impact of the coronavirus lockdown, along with protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, were two of the main factors named by forces as helping to drive the increase in offences, along with improved recording of hate crimes.
A total of 61,851 racially and religiously aggravated offences were recorded in 2020, up 7% from 57,825 in 2019.
This is also more than double the 28,479 offences recorded in 2013, the first calendar year for which comparable data is available.
Independent charity Victim Support called the figures “shocking” and said it was “huge cause for concern that so many cases are left unsolved”, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned that although the police had taken “positive steps” in the recording of hate crime, “more still needs to be done to improve the process and the quality of support for victims”.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said forces had worked hard to improve their handling of hate crime, including better recording of offences, adding: “We are working with forces to help them understand and improve the service they provide to victims.”
The figures cover all forces in England and Wales except Greater Manchester Police, who were unable to provide full data from July 2019 to March 2020.
Of the 43 forces that did provide complete data, 33 reported a rise in racially and religiously aggravated offences from 2019 to 2020, while 30 forces said numbers last year reached a new high.
The offences – all of which are defined as hate crimes – include racially or religiously aggravated assault, harassment and criminal damage.
The analysis has been compiled by the PA news agency from data published by the Home Office.
It shows that that the Metropolitan Police recorded the highest number of these offences in 2020 (15,101; up 7% from 14,051 in 2019), followed by West Midlands (5,115; up 23% from 4,145) and West Yorkshire (4,627; down 1% from 4,681).
A spokesperson for the Met said the outbreak of Covid-19 had a “direct impact” on levels of hate crime in the capital, with “a rise in reports of racially aggravated hate crime incidents, both on and offline, where certain communities were targeted due to the pandemic”.
At the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the spring of 2020, there was a rise in the number of victims identifying as Chinese or south-east Asian where police were able to detect a link to Covid-19 in the nature of the offence, according to the NPCC – although this trend did not persist through the year.
West Midlands Police said they had seen a rise in hate crime “especially during the pandemic”, with “an increase in neighbour disputes and online social media offences, with lockdown playing a part in this”.
Chief Inspector Chris Matthews of West Yorkshire Police said the force had worked hard to encourage all victims of hate crime to report “any and all incidents” and to “ensure such offences are accurately recorded,” which had led to a high volume being documented.
Leicestershire Police saw the biggest percentage year-on-year rise in racially and religiously aggravated offences in 2020, up from 714 to 1,297 (a rise of 82%), followed by Dyfed-Powys (up 49%) and Dorset (43%).
Leicestershire Police Assistant Chief Constable Julia Debenham told the PA that additional resources had been allocated to cover hate crime incidents, which had “led to more accurate recording and therefore an increase in such crimes. The majority of these crimes are lower-level offences, such as public order. We recognise that such crimes do still have a significant impact on victims and we are determined to deal with them robustly.”
Dyfed-Powys Police said it had anticipated an increase in offences last year following a number of “significant events”, including “community tensions around English on Welsh and Welsh on English crimes” during the lockdown along with “protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement”.
Just over a quarter (27%) of racially and religiously aggravated offences recorded in 2020 were closed without police identifying a suspect, PA analysis also shows.
This is an improvement on 2019, when around three in 10 (31%) were shut with no suspect in the frame.
But among some forces the proportion in 2020 was higher, with British Transport Police closing 42%, and West Midlands Police and the Metropolitan Police – two of the largest forces in the country – closing 40% and 31% respectively.
The description “investigation complete – no suspect identified” is used when a reported crime has been investigated “as far as reasonably possible” and the case is closed pending further investigative opportunities.
British Transport Police told the PA that preventing and tackling hate crime was a “priority”, and that “in the rare instances where incidents do happen, we’re ready to respond and have access to CCTV across the network which often give us vital evidence to identify suspects and make arrests”.
The Metropolitan Police said that where any allegation of hate crime is made the force “will launch a proportionate investigation,” though in some cases there may be a lack of evidence to support a prosecution.
West Midlands Police stressed that “every report is taken seriously”, but “unfortunately hate crimes are rarely captured on CCTV with audio or even on officers’ body-worn video, making them difficult to prosecute”, adding that “sometimes a victim doesn’t want to pursue a prosecution, they just want the incident recorded.”
Police-recorded hate crime offences have been on an upwards trend for the past decade, with spikes often driven by national events, the NPCC said – examples being the 2016 EU referendum, Covid-19 and, in May 2020, the murder in the United States of George Floyd, which led to public demonstrations both in support and against the Black Lives Matter movement.
More recently, racist abuse experienced by members of the England football squad following the team’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final may prove to be another spike, with the UK’s Football Policing Unit already searching through thousands of social media posts aimed at Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho.
Diana Fawcett, chief executive at independent charity Victim Support, told PA that throughout the pandemic they had seen high numbers of hate crime victims seeking support, particularly following the easing of lockdowns.
“We have seen victims who not only live with pain and suffering after facing horrendous abuse, but who also have had their sense of safety, well-being and self-worth damaged,” she said, adding that victims must have “confidence they will get justice from these incidences”.
A spokesperson from the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “Positive steps have been taken by the police to improve recording practices, but we know that victims of hate crime may not report incidents if, for example, they have low trust in police and criminal justice agencies.
“It is essential that hate crimes or incidents are reported to the police to help ensure they are properly investigated and prosecuted.
“An increase in the number of police recorded cases could be a sign of improvements in recording practices, but more still needs to be done to improve the process and the quality of support for victims.”
NPCC lead for hate crime, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, said: “Targeting someone because of their race or other characteristic is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated.
“Everyone has the right to live their lives without fear of being attacked, either physically, verbally or online. Police take all reports of threats and abuse seriously and we will work to bring perpetrators to justice.”