Race-hate crimes on rise in county

By Mark HeathTHE number of race-hate crimes reported in Suffolk has almost doubled in a year, new figures have revealed.The figures released yesterday by the Crown Prosecution Service also showed that the number of people prosecuted for race-hate crimes jumped by 127% in 2003/4.

By Mark Heath

THE number of race-hate crimes reported in Suffolk has almost doubled in a year, new figures have revealed.

The figures released yesterday by the Crown Prosecution Service also showed that the number of people prosecuted for race-hate crimes jumped by 127% in 2003/4.

In all, there were 59 charges involving racial crime - up from 30 in 2002/3 - with 34 people prosecuted - an increase of 19 on the previous year.

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Offences of racially-aggravated public order leapt by 155% - 23 in 2003/4 compared with nine in 2002/3 - and racially-aggravated assaults also rose by 75%, from four in 2002/3 to seven in 2003/4.

In Essex over the same time period, the number of charges stemming from racially-aggravated crimes fell from 70 to 57.

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The figures will prompt fears of rising racial tension in Suffolk, but the region's crimefighting agencies claimed they simply proved people were now more comfortable coming forward and reporting offences.

Chris Yule, chief crown prosecutor for Suffolk and chairman of the Suffolk Criminal Justice Board said: “We are very concerned to hear of this rise in racially-motivated incidents recorded in Suffolk.

“However, we believe that it is likely that victims of racial incidents now feel more comfortable actually reporting them than they have done previously.”

He added: “Criminal justice agencies in Suffolk have worked together to provide vital information for black and minority ethnic community groups.

“They are now more likely to be aware of how to report crimes and the support on offer throughout the criminal justice system.

“There has also been greater monitoring of racial incidents within the Crown Prosecution Service and racially-motivated crimes are now 'flagged' on the system where they were not previously.

“The criminal justice agencies in Suffolk will continue to work together to reduce the number of racial incidents in Suffolk and encourage those that are victims of such crimes to report them.”

Hamil Clarke, chairman of the Ipswich and Suffolk Commission for Racial Equality, said the police took racial crime seriously, but criticised the courts for not handing down stiffer punishments.

“It's worrying, it's a concern to me and I'm sure it's of concern to the Crown Prosecution Service as well,” he added.

“The Crown Prosecution Service and police have been encouraging people to report these crimes and they have reporting centres throughout the county.

“That has made it easier for people who don't want to talk to the police to report these incidents. I also know that the police here in Suffolk take racially-aggravated crime very seriously.

“The criticism that I have had is of the judicial system - particularly the magistrates' courts - where the police do their work and then the magistrates don't give out sufficient sentences.

“I will be talking to my colleagues to see why these types of crimes have gone up and what we can do about it.”

Inspector Peter Haystead, community relations inspector for Suffolk police, welcomed the figures as evidence the force were doing their job.

“Firstly, we are trying to encourage people to report these incidents and secondly, we are ensuring that we support the victims and we do what we can to get a lasting solution,” he said.

“That may be taking the perpetrator to court or it may be to deal with it by way of a warning or caution, or even in some circumstances by way of mediation.”

Insp Haystead added a review of outcomes of racist incidents in Suffolk between April 1, 2003 and March 31, 2004 had found that 73 people had been found guilty in court, while 53 had been dealt with by way of warning or reprimand.

“The figures are indicating that we have been more successful and that's good news - I would be concerned if the figures were going the other way,” he said.

“It's important that we nip these cases in the bud, both from the point of view of the victim because clearly if you are continually subjected to abuse then it has a drip-effect and the results can be very serious, and it's also important that we nip any racism initially.

“It may often be young people involved and it's important that we stop that early on rather than risk it escalating.”

Insp Haystead, who stressed that the vast majority of incidents they dealt with were verbal abuse and that racial assaults were rare, added: “We want to encourage people to report incidents, then we can do something about them.

“They are very welcome to contact the police, but there's also a freephone helpline where people can report racist incidents in their language of choice on 0800 1381643.”


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