Racism court cases on the rise

By Jonathan Barnes and Juliette MaxamCOURT cases involving racially-motivated crimes in Essex and Suffolk have dramatically increased over the past year, a new report has revealed.

By Jonathan Barnes and Juliette Maxam

COURT cases involving racially-motivated crimes in Essex and Suffolk have dramatically increased over the past year, a new report has revealed.

Racially-motivated crimes in Essex almost quadrupled, while those in Suffolk almost doubled.

The number of defendants dealt with by the Suffolk Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for racist crimes rose by 95% in 2001/02, while those in Essex rose from 10 to 38 during the sane period.

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The figures were revealed in the CPS Racist Incident Monitoring Scheme Annual Report 2001/02, which was published yesterday. It includes data on all racist incidents sent by the police to the CPS for prosecution.

The national average for racially-motivated crimes rose by 20% last year, following a 28.5% increase in the previous year.

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Suffolk CPS brought cases against 43 defendants in 2001/02, from which 68% of the charges resulted in guilty pleas and 7% in convictions after trial. The national rate was 83%, the same as in 2000/01.

In Essex, the CPS brought cases against 38 defendants, of which 27 were prosecuted. There were 54 charges brought, but only 32 of them were prosecuted, with 21 guilty pleas, five further convictions, and six acquittals.

The most frequent racially-motivated charge in Essex was racially-aggravated assault, followed by racially-aggravated public order. There was one charge of racially-aggravated harassment.

The report also revealed cases where charges were dropped in Suffolk, there was insufficient evidence in 61% of cases, 4% had difficulties with witnesses and 22% were not pursued on public interest grounds.

Racially-aggravated offences introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 accounted for 69% of the Suffolk prosecutions, the majority being racially-aggravated public order offences.

Chris Yule, chief crown prosecutor in Suffolk, said he was pleased more victims of racist crimes had had the confidence to come forward, but was “disappointed” the county's conviction rate had been lower than the national average.

“In response to high-profile campaigns urging victims of racist crime not to suffer in silence and to report incidents, more victims now have the confidence to come forward knowing that Suffolk police and Suffolk CPS take these offences seriously,” he added.

“I am encouraged that many more offences were prosecuted this year, but disappointed that the local conviction rate is lower than the national average.

“It is clear there is still more work to do to build up trust and confidence in the minority communities.

“In Suffolk, we are now working much more closely with the police, which will ensure that advice is provided at a much earlier stage and the quality of casework improved.”

Mr Yule said the CPS would continue to work with community groups through the Multi-Agency Forum and the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, and in developing specific work under the new Suffolk Criminal Justice Board.

“Underlying all this, however, is a continuing need to support victims and witnesses of hate crime as cases progress through the Criminal Justice System,” he added.

A spokeswoman for Essex Police said reports of race crime had gone up in the county over the past year, partly due to a police campaign encouraging victims to come forward and also because police were making a note of incidents even if victims did not want to take any action.

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