Facing up to hate crime

ORGANISATIONS tackling hate crime in Hartlepool say there are still too many such attacks going unreported.

There were 84 incidents of hate crime in Hartlepool during 2010, but police officers say there have probably been far more victims who are reluctant to come forward.

Police categorise hate crime as all incidents involving religion, race, transgender, disability and sexuality.

The concerns come after the Hartlepool Mail reported how a shocking homophobic attack took place outside St Patrick’s shops, in Hartlepool, on Wednesday, November 16.

A 28-year-old gay man was berated by a group of youths while sat in his car.

The yobs then went on to bang on his windows and try and open his doors.

Since the incident, two boys aged 12 and a 13-year-old girl have been spoken to by police.

Sarah Lewis is a hate crime officer with the Hartlepool charity Hart Gables, a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, which is based in York Road.

As a lesbian, she says she has personally been the subject of abuse and is encouraging others to follow in her footsteps and report their attackers and haul them before the courts.

She said: “What happened outside those shops is unacceptable and I would encourage all LGBT people to come forward and report what happens to them.

“Since April 2011, our records show there have been 15 incidents and only two have been reported.

“There are many factors why people don’t, such as not wanting to come out, maybe not trusting the police even though they now have excellent procedures in place and even not thinking what is happening to them is a crime.

“But the terminology people use is not acceptable and I would like to see as a community people saying ‘no’ to this behaviour.

“If people don’t want to report it they can still come forward and get the support they need, even if they just want to have a chat and get it off their chest.”

Neighbourhood Safety Sergeant Alan Irons, who heads Hartlepool’s community safety team, said that historically, hate incidents are under-represented in certain areas.

He added: “The numbers are going up slightly, not because more is happening but because people are becoming more aware and confident to come forward.

“As a police force we haven’t been bad at how we deal with these issues, but we have learned lessons.

“Certainly homophobic incidents have been under-represented because the victim may not want it widely known that they are gay.

“They are frightened that if they do report, more people will know and it will lead to more problems.

“Disabled people have been under-represented as well and we are trying to engage more with the communities and find out why people do not report.

“We are not sure what the reasons are as they can be very personal.

“It’s a much more complex issue than people may think and we are working with groups, such as Hart Gables, to find the best ways to support victims.”

He added that PC Zoe Kelsey, a consultation and engagement officer, is responsible for liaising with minority groups in town and speaks to victims.

The crime log is also checked each day so any hate crimes can be highlighted and to make sure they are being logged correctly.

“It also means other agencies can be contacted to help, with the primary one being Hart Gables.

Sue Willoughby, community cohesion officer for the Safer Hartlepool Partnership, said: “We are aware that most of these incidents go unreported.

“I work closely with Hart Gables and the police to monitor these crimes, making sure they are being recorded and to see what can be done to support those making reports.

“Hart Gables is a fantastic support for the town and even if people don’t want to report a crime they can contact agencies or the police to get support.”

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