Racially and religiously aggravated offences recorded by police in England and Wales hit a fresh high in 2021, with reaction to England’s defeat at the Euro football championships likely to have contributed to the increase, new analysis shows.
The easing of Covid-19 restrictions is another factor named by forces as having led to the rise in offences, along with improved recording of hate crimes.
A total of 76,884 racially and religiously aggravated offences were recorded in 2021, up 15% from 66,742 in 2020.
The number of offences has been on an upwards trend since 2013, the first calendar year for which comparable data is available.
But this is the biggest percentage jump since 2017, which saw a 16% rise in offences fuelled by reaction to terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.
Independent charity Victim Support said the figures for 2021 were “seriously concerning” and fit a pattern for “spikes in hate crime linked to world events”, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned that “more still needs to be done to improve the quality of support for victims”, including “effective hate crime training” for police forces.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said all forms of hate crime are “completely unacceptable – police will take, and do take, all reports seriously and we will do everything we can to investigate”.
The analysis has been compiled by the PA news agency from data published by the Home Office.
It shows that of the 44 forces in England and Wales, 39 reported a rise in racially and religiously aggravated offences from 2020 to 2021, while 34 forces saw numbers last year reach a new high.
The offences – all of which are defined as hate crimes – include racially or religiously aggravated assault, harassment and criminal damage.
The Metropolitan Police recorded the highest number of these offences last year (15,394, up 2% from 15,156 in 2020) followed by West Midlands (8,019, up 57% from 5,117), Greater Manchester (6,431, up 36% from 4,724) and West Yorkshire (5,334, up 15% from 4,642).
West Midlands and Greater Manchester also saw two of the largest year-on-year percentage increases, along with Gloucestershire (up 45% from 384 to 556) and Cleveland (up 34% from 631 to 843).
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said the force saw “several spikes” in reported hate crimes last year that were influenced by “high profile events”, including a “sharp rise following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.”
“We take reports of hate crime seriously and record all instances, whether they pass the threshold to be classified as a crime or not,” the spokesperson added.
Superintendent Rick Jackson, Greater Manchester Police’s hate crime lead, said the number of incidents during lockdown were “unprecedently low, so it was to be expected that there would be an increase” once restrictions were lifted, and that it was “encouraging that members of our communities have the trust and confidence in Greater Manchester Police to report hate crime”.
The UK went back into lockdown at the beginning of last year due to the second wave of Covid-19 infections, with tight restrictions on travel, socialising and leisure activities.
PA’s analysis shows that January to March 2021 saw 13,899 racially and religiously aggravated offences recorded by forces in England and Wales, the lowest number for any quarter since the first three months of 2018.
But this was followed by a sharp jump to 21,239 offences in April to June, coinciding with the gradual lifting of Covid restrictions, before rising even higher in July-September (22,556) followed by slight drop in October-December (19,190).
The period July to September also coincided with the end of the Euro football championships, which saw England lose the final on July 11 in a penalty shootout with Italy.
Police made a number of arrests in the weeks following the final, after abusive posts on social media targeted England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, all of whom missed penalties.
One football fan who live-streamed himself on Facebook racially abusing the players was later handed a 10-week prison sentence, while another received a six-week sentence for racially abusing Rashford on Twitter.
A spokesperson for Cleveland Police, which saw one of the biggest percentage jumps in race and religious offences last year, confirmed the force “did see a rise in hate crime around the time of the Euro football tournament and the end of the football season” and has since stepped up its response, including appointing a hate crime co-ordinator to “give focus to investigation and training to ensure the best quality of service to communities”.
Diana Fawcett, chief executive at Victim Support, said the figures reflect what the charity has been seeing in recent years, in particular an 11% increase in 2021 in its own recorded cases of hate crime, nearly three-quarters of which involved abuse based on race and religion.
“We consistently see spikes in hate crime linked to world events – for example, following the Euros finals last summer – so this could be one reason for the rise,” she said.
“This trend is seriously concerning – no person or community should be targeted because of who they are.”
A number of forces told PA the increase is also likely to reflect improvements by police in the recording of these offences, along with a greater willingness by the public to report hate crimes.
Chief Superintendent Mat Shaer, West Midlands Police lead for hate crime, said: “We treat all hate crime seriously and encourage all victims and witnesses to come forward and report it.
“As a result we have seen an increase in the reporting of all forms of hate crime. We believe this reflects people’s increasing confidence in reporting hate crimes to us and we are continually looking to offer new ways to make reporting as easy as possible.”
Assistant Chief Constable Osman Khan of West Yorkshire Police said: “We record every hate incident whether it passes the threshold to be classified as a crime or not, and have worked very closely with partners to campaign and actively encourage victims to come forward and make reports to the police.
“By encouraging reporting of hate crime, people now have the confidence to tell us about incidents where the suspect cannot be identified, for example in some online abuse cases.”
A spokesperson for Gloucestershire Police said that hate crime where a victim is targeted because of their race or religion “is often the strand which has the highest amount of reports” and that “over the years victims have started to become more confident in reporting incidents.”
The force has also “improved crime recording in order to ensure we are capturing data accurately and in a timely manner.”
The 76,884 racially or religiously aggravated offences last year is more than two and a half times the 30,798 recorded in 2013, when comparable data began.
Only five forces in England and Wales saw a fall in these offences in 2021: Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Wiltshire.
NPCC lead for hate crime, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, said: “Everyone has the right to live their lives without fear of being attacked for who they are, either physically or verbally.
“We strongly encourage anyone who thinks they may have experienced any hate crime to report it to the police. Our officers are highly trained, will treat everyone with respect and dignity and handle cases sensitively. We ask that victims come to us as soon as possible after an offence has been committed so we can begin our investigation as early as possible.”