Police fail to identify suspects in hundreds of race and religious hate crimes in the North East, new figures reveal

Picture by PA
Picture by PA

Police forces in the North East are closing hundreds of investigations into racially and religiously-aggravated offences without identifying a suspect, new analysis shows.

In the 12 months to September 2018, a third of such offences recorded by Northumbria Police and almost a quarter by Durham Constabulary and Cleveland Police were shut with no suspect in the frame.

A breakdown by police force of the proportion of racially or religiously aggravated offences recorded by officers in the 12 months to September 2018 which were assigned the outcome "investigation complete - no suspect identified" has been revealed by a Press Association investigation.

Northumbria Police had 1,269 cases recorded with 421 assigned "investigation complete - no suspect identified" - 33% of the total. This makes it the fourth highest in the country, behind Greater Manchester Police (46%), West Midlands Police (44%) and British Transport Police (37%).

Durham Constabulary had 369 cases, and 89 (or 24%) assigned "investigation complete - no suspect identified".

Cleveland Police's figure was 148 out of 621 cases, or 24%.

The figures are from police-recorded crime data for England and Wales published by the Home Office and cover five types of offences, all of which have a specific racially or religiously motivated element defined by statute.

According to the Home Office, "these racially or religiously aggravated offences are by definition hate crimes".

The five offences are:

- Racially or religiously aggravated assault with injury

- Racially or religiously aggravated assault without injury

- Racially or religiously aggravated harassment

- Racially or religiously aggravated criminal damage

- Racially or religiously aggravated public fear, alarm or distress

Northumbria Police said it worked "extremely hard" to give victims the confidence to come forward and had seen a "significant improvement" in how it recorded hate crime.

Chief Inspector Karl Wilson said: "It is totally unacceptable to abuse somebody because of their race, age, sexual orientation, religion, disability or any other protected characteristic and we will stand together to stop this sort of prejudice.

"Hate crime is something that has been under-reported for a long time, but as a force have worked extremely hard to give victims the confidence to come forward. There has been a significant improvement in how we record hate crime and an increased understanding among officers about what constitutes a hate crime.

"We know that not everyone feels comfortable in calling 101 or 999 to report these types of crimes to the police so we have also invested in a number of other ways to report hate crime. We have Safe Reporting Centres across the Northumbria force area, work closely with third sector agencies such as True Vision and Tell Mamma and also support a number of online reporting tools.

"We will continue to work closely with a wide range of partners to tackle hate crime and make it as easy as possible for victims to report incidents, so we in turn can ensure they are fully investigated by police. If you have been a victim of hate crime we would urge you to come forward.

"Even if this does not result in a criminal prosecution, you will be supported by our specialist officers."

However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission described the national figures - which saw some forces closing almost half of all such cases without identifying a suspect - as "disappointing".

It added that victims of these offences often don't report what has happened to them "as they feel that the police won't take the incident seriously or have the power to act".

Independent charity Victim Support warned the figures could undermine public confidence in the ability of the justice system to report hate crime.

The analysis has been compiled by the Press Association based on data published by the Home Office. It reveals that:

- A total of 28% of all racially and religiously-aggravated offences recorded in England and Wales in the year to September 2018 were assigned the outcome "investigation complete - no suspect identified". This is used when a reported crime has been investigated "as far as reasonably possible" and the case is closed pending further investigative opportunities.

- The proportion varies considerably between different forces, with Greater Manchester the highest at 44% and North Yorkshire the lowest at 4%.

- The total number of racially and religiously-aggravated offences recorded by police has reached a new high, with 57,652 recorded during this period across England and Wales - the largest number for any 12-month period since these categories of offence were established in April 2012.

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) told the Press Association that while any rise in hate crime was concerning, the latest figures also reflected success in improving the reporting of such offences.

NPCC Lead for Hate Crime, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, said: "Unfortunately, with many cases, there are often no witnesses to these crimes and scarce evidence - this may lead to police being unable to identify a suspect. The police service has no tolerance for this type of abuse but we need to be made aware that crimes are taking place so that we can investigate - or better still, prevent them from happening."

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the Equality & Human Rights Commission, said it was vital that any potential hate crimes were reported to police to help ensure they were properly investigated and prosecuted.

"Attacking or harassing people is unacceptable in today's society and it is shameful when carried out because of their identity. Police forces must collect accurate and comprehensive data so they can develop effective solutions to end hate crime in our society," she said.

Diana Fawcett, chief officer at Victim Support, said the charity's experience showed that those who suffer racially and religiously motivated hate crime can be "seriously impacted, both emotionally and physically".

"The fact that such a large number of these cases are being closed with no suspect identified threatens to further undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system when it comes to reporting racially and religiously motivated hate crime," she added.

The findings come after other reports suggesting hate crime is on the rise.

Analysis published last month by Jewish charity the Community Security Trust found that a record number of anti-Semitic hate incidents were reported in the UK in 2018, up 16% on 2017.

A Home Office report in October 2018 showed all forms of police-recorded hate crime in England and Wales jumped by 17% in 2017/18.

And Home Secretary Sajid Javid appealed for the UK to "stand together" after a series of suspected hate crime incidents in London, Rochdale, Surrey and Oxford over the past weekend, in the wake of the New Zealand terror attack.

Detective Inspector Lisa Jones from British Transport Police said that, while there are cases where a suspect is not identified, "officers will investigate any new evidence that comes to light" and that offences "are recorded irrespective of whether the victim provides their name and contact details or whether they wish to assist a police investigation or prosecution".