What is a hate crime, and what are the protected characteristics?

Brianna Ghey (Family handout / Warrington Police / PA)
Brianna Ghey (Family handout / Warrington Police / PA)

Cheshire Police are investigating whether the murder of Brianna Ghey was a hate crime.

The 16-year-old girl, whose funeral was held today, was found stabbed in a park on Saturday, February 11.

Two teenagers, both 15, have been charged with the murder.

Police initially said there was no evidence to suggest that Brianna, who was trangender, was a victim of a hate crime.

LGBTQ+ charity Mermaids said in a statement on Monday (February 13): “Our thoughts are with the loved ones of Brianna Ghey, a trans teenager who was murdered in Cheshire this weekend.

“If you have been affected by this shocking news and need someone to talk to, our helpline is available until 9pm tonight and every weekday evening: 0808 801 0400.”

What is a hate crime?

A hate crime is when someone is targeted because of their identity or because of what the offender perceives their identity to be.

The Met Police defines a hate crime as, “Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability, and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.”

In hate crime cases, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is responsible for asking the courts to increase the sentence that an offender receives.

What are the protected characteristics?

According to the CPS, the law recognises five types of hate crime on the basis of:

  • Race

  • Religion

  • Disability

  • Sexual orientation

  • Transgender identity

Xenophobia targeting certain nationalities can also be recorded as race hate crimes.

What is a hate crime vs a hate incident?

A hate crime can include physical assault, verbal abuse, harassment, assault or threats, for example. A hate crime is when a crime has been committed and has been motivated by prejudice against one of the five protected characteristics.

A hate incident, on the other hand, is when a crime has not been committed, but when certain behaviour is perceived to be motivated by prejudice against one of the five protected characteristics.

How many hate crimes are committed in the UK?

There were more than 155,000 hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2022. This reflected a 26 per cent increase compared with the previous year.

However, according to the Home Office, it is unclear whether there has been an increase in hate crime, or an increase in recorded hate crime due to improvements in recording crime and more victims feeling confident in reporting the crime.