The Guardian ran a story on its website today headlined: ‘Hate crimes doubled in England and Wales in five years.’ Alarming if true, but is it?
The story is based on some data released by the Home Office today which, on the face of it, does appear to show the number of hate crimes increasing. The number of hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales in 2018-19 was 103,397, up from 94,121 in 2017-18, a rise of ten per cent.
But drill down into the report, and the picture becomes more hazy. The word doing most of the work here is ‘recorded’. Yes, the number of recorded hate crimes has increased year-on-year, but how do we know that isn’t due to the police being more likely to record hate crimes? In fact, the Home Office acknowledges that ‘increases in hate crime over the last five years have been mainly driven by improvements in crime recording by the police’.
One way to resolve this is to look at unrecorded hate crimes and then ask whether the combined total of recorded and unrecorded hate crimes has increased. David Goodhart and Richard Norrie were able to do that last year in an article for Policy Exchange, thanks to the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), which compiles data about unrecorded and recorded hate crimes. According to the CSEW, the estimated combined totals for 2016-17 and 2017-18 were ~184,000. That’s 40 per cent lower than the estimated combined totals for 2007-08 and 2008-09, which were ~307,000.
While it’s true that there has been an increase in the number of recorded hate crimes in the last five years, as the Guardian headline claims, the Home Office believes that’s due to changes in recording protocols following a review in 2014, not a rise in the number of actual hate crimes. Today’s report says:
increases seen over the last five years are thought to have been driven by improvements in crime recording by the police following a review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in 2014 and the removal of the designation of police recorded crime as National Statistics. It is also thought that growing awareness of hate crime is likely to have led to improved identification of such offences.
That last sentence is important. A big factor in the rising number of reported hate crimes – and the corresponding fall in the number of unreported hate crimes – is that members of the public have been bombarded with information alerting them to the fact that certain types of anti-social behaviour can be designated as ‘hate crimes’ and encouraging them to report this behaviour to the police, as well as making it easier for them to do so. This is a point well-made by the author Ben Cobley, who wrote a piece for Quillette earlier this year about the alleged upsurge in hate crimes around the time of the EU referendum, a data point often referred to by Brexit’s opponents:
Labour party and pro-Remain politicians, such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan, heavily promoted the reporting of hate crime in the summer of 2016. Khan’s own office added to the proliferating number of reporting mechanisms by setting up a web page urging people to telephone or send an email about hate crimes ‘following the referendum result’. Meanwhile, police forces and local councils were busily engaging with ‘community forums’, encouraging group and community leaders to report hate incidents.
One final point. In 2014, the College of Policing issued new operational guidance to help officers determine whether a report of anti-social behaviour constitutes a ‘hate crime’. The crucial passage reads as follows:
For recording purposes, the perception of the victim, or any other person, is the defining factor in determining whether an incident is a hate incident, or in recognising the hostility element of a hate crime. The victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief, and police officers or staff should not directly challenge this perception. Evidence of the hostility is not required for an incident or crime to be recorded as a hate crime or hate incident.
In other words, someone can report a hate crime, and the police are obliged to record it, without them having to provide any evidence that a hate crime has taken place.
So it’s possible that the rise in recorded hate crimes in the past year is, in part, due to a rise in perceived hate crimes, simply because more people have become primed to detect them, particularly Remainers who have persuaded themselves that the EU referendum has ‘unleashed demons’, to use David Cameron’s phrase.
It’s also possible that the nebulousness of the definition, with complainants not being required to provide any evidence to back up their claims, has led to an increase in vexatious reports. Which may explain why the number of successful prosecutions for hate crimes remains low — around 12,000 a year for the past few years.
I’ll give the last word to the Home Office. It notes that between 2017-18 and 2018-19, there has been a 25 per cent increase in recorded sexual orientation hate crimes, a 14 per cent increase in recorded disability hate crimes and a 37 per cent increase in recorded transgender identity hate crimes. But it then adds:
These large percentage increases across all three strands are partly due to the smaller number of these crimes. However, they may also suggest that increases are due to the improvements made by the police in their identification and recording of these hate crime offences and more people coming forward to report these crimes rather than a genuine increase.