A BBC report is set to ask whether Britain is really “the most hostile country in the Western world”, or just has a woefully elastic definition of ‘hate crime’.
Over 46,000 hate crimes were recorded in Britain last year, placing the nation at the top of an international league table compiled by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
But an investigation by a BBC Radio 4 programme, The Report, asks if the true picture is “really that bleak”. The programme is due to be broadcast tonight at 8pm.
It will suggest that the figures may be massively inflated because “if the victim or a witness believes the crime is motivated by some kind of hatred, it will be recorded as a hate crime”.
The Report concludes that this vague and very subjective definition of hate crime “may well explain why some police forces are seeing big rises in their recorded crimes and why the UK tops a list of over 50 countries for hate crimes”.
Posing the question: “Does this mean Britain is more hateful than other nations?”, reporter Simon Cox’s answer is a clear “No”.
The investigation cites the example of young trainee policeman James Parkes who received serious injuries when attacked in Liverpool in October.
The media reporting of the assault on PC Parkes has focussed on his homosexuality, and Liverpool police are treating it as a ‘homophobic’ hate crime.
But The Report heard that PC Parkes was beaten up after he intervened in an altercation between a gang and nightclub doormen while off duty.
“If true,” the investigation concludes, “this version would turn an iconic hate crime into a still serious but altogether different kind of assault.”
Investigating the 2008 hate crime figures, The Report finds that much of what is labelled as hate crime is “low level anti-social behaviour or neighbourly disputes that have escalated and got out of hand”.
Dr Neil Chakraborti, a criminologist at Leicester University, said “I think it is a fine line between anti-social behaviour and a hate crime,” adding that it can be difficult to judge when low level abuse and harassment become a hate crime.
The Report also warns that the Government’s hate action plan, launched this summer, will only confuse matters more.
It says that initiatives like establishing specialist hate crime courts, obliging all public bodies to record and report all hate crimes and incidents and requiring schools to report all bullying with hate elements could be counter-productive.
It cautions that if such schemes are implemented “we may end up with a picture of the UK that is much more hateful than the reality and may not reduce the levels of this type of crime”.
Last month it emerged that a Christian grandmother, Pauline Howe, was investigated by police for ‘homophobic hatred’ after she wrote a letter of complaint to her local council about verbal abuse she received at a gay pride parade.
Mrs Howe was told she may be guilty of a hate crime. An official letter warned her: “A hate incident is any incident that is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hatred. A hate crime is any hate incident that constitutes a criminal offence.
“The content of your letter has been assessed as potentially being hate related because of the views you expressed towards people of a certain sexual orientation.”
Mrs Howe was also told: “Your details and details of the content of your letter have been recorded as such and passed to the Police.”
Mrs Howe was later visited in her home by two police officers. They said her letter was homophobic and may be treated as a ‘hate incident’.
Last year two church workers from Birmingham were told by a police community support officer that they were committing a hate crime by attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity.
In 2005 a Christian couple from Fleetwood were interrogated by police because they complained about their local council’s ‘gay rights’ policy.
Lancashire Constabulary told Joe and Helen Roberts that they were close to committing a ‘hate crime’. The police later admitted that no crime had been committed and they and the council issued a public apology.