Hate-fuelled crimes in which victims have been attacked because of their religion have spiralled by an alarming 57.6 per cent in the West Midlands over the past two years.
As the region prepares to celebrate Christmas – with its message of peace and goodwill – Home Office figures show that assaults incited by faith discrimination rose to 82 this year. Last year just 52 such cases were recorded by the police and the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
Community campaigners warn that it could be just the tip of the iceberg because of a general perception that the authorities are either powerless, or unwilling, to act on complaints.
And the shocking figures do not include the murder of grandfather Mohammed Saleem, who was murdered as he made his way home from Friday prayers at a Birmingham mosque in April. Nor do they include this year’s nail bomb attacks on mosques in the Black Country because they occurred after the latest figures available from Government statisticians.
Mr Saleem, 82, from Small Heath was murdered by neo Nazi Pavlo Lapshyn, who had travelled from the Ukraine with the mission of starting a race war on Britain’s streets. The 25-year-old extremist was jailed for life for killing the peaceful pensioner.
Police are also currently investigating an alleged hate crime at St Andrew’s in which two Middlesbrough fans have been accused of taunting Blues supporters by ripping up a copy of the Koran.
West Midlands Police say that more people have come forward to report hate crime to them than in earlier years when victims feared that their assaults would not be taken seriously.
But 40 per cent more of the hate crimes recorded by the Home Office in the latest survey were reported not to the police but to the Crime Survey. The report states that many victims feared that officers would not, or could not, do anything to help them.
The results cover March 31, 2011 to April 1, 2012 and the same dates in 2012 to 2013. Most of the victims were of mixed race and suffered assault, with minor or no injuries, and vandalism.
Gerald Nembhard, chairman of West Midlands Faiths Forum, said his multi-faith organisation has been aware of an increase in hate crime since the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al Qaeda in the USA.
“We are not surprised by these figures,” he said. “We have seen a steady rise in hate crime in the region following events of 9/11. Various places of worship have been attacked, as have individuals across the region. Incidents are not just related to terrorism but race and related matters, such as with the travelling community.
“The police have taken the issue much more seriously and have improved lines of reporting incidents. Previously there were very low levels of reporting.”
Birmingham human rights activist and race campaigner Maxie Hayles blamed Government cuts for the increase in religiously motivated hate crime. “This is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “It is disgraceful and a disappointing reality because the powers that be are cutting services which are needed to protect vulnerable groups. This is an ongoing problem. All religions are affected.”
David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, said there was much work underway in the city to build relationships between different faith groups and communities.
“Any act that injures another person is to be condemned whatever the motivation,” he said. “While it is troubling to read of the rise in religiously motivated hate crime in the West Midlands, the figures need to be set against the large numbers of people of different faiths who get on very well across the region.
“In Birmingham there are a number of projects that have encouraged people at a local level to build friendships, to work together to improve communities and to challenge the attitude that leads to hate crime.
“Recently the Near Neighbours programme has encouraged a large number of such programmes, including supporting an event next year that is tackling domestic violence within faith communities. The Feast is a local charity working with Christian and Muslim teenagers that has recently delivered food hampers to elderly residents, of all faiths and none, in Balsall Heath.
“In 2014 the desire amongst the vast majority is to strive for a more peaceful and harmonious society.”
Superintendent Chris Johnson, from West Midlands Police, said: “We take all reports of hate crime, including those motivated by religion, extremely seriously and all cases are thoroughly investigated. “While one crime is one too many, it is encouraging to see that more people feel confident in our ability to bring offenders to justice and are increasingly willing to confide in police in what has historically been an under-reported crime.”
As Britain prepares to enter a new year, there is pressure to boost confidence amongst communities who suffer hate crime.
“All forms of hate crime are deplorable,” said Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker. “We can only confront it if victims feel empowered to come forward, confident that their voice will be heard. The number of people receiving a custodial sentence for racially or religiously aggravated crimes is higher than ever before, and these criminals are spending more time in prison.
“However, we cannot be complacent – we need to do more to encourage all victims to come forward. This is why we are working with the police and other agencies to increase reporting, improve support and prevent these terrible crimes happening in the first place.”
The Home Office report states that police and courts now have increased powers to deal with religious and racial hate criminals.
The volume of offenders sentenced to immediate custody for racially or religiously aggravated crimes has increased by almost 80 per cent over the last decade, from 460 in 2002 to 810 in 2012.
And offenders are more likely to receive higher sentences if race or religious hostility is found to be a factor in their crime.