Intolerance and hate crime ‘have no place in our West Sussex communities’, according to a pledge made by county councillors.
Reports of race-based hate crime have increased by a quarter across Sussex since the EU referendum compared to the same period in 2015, according to police figures.
But late last month West Sussex county councillors all pledged to condemn all hate crime incidents across the county.
Christine Field (Con, Lindfield and High Weald), WSCC’s deputy leader and cabinet member for community wellbeing, said: “We are proud to live in a diverse and tolerant society. Racism, xenophobia and hate crimes have no place in our country.
“West Sussex County Council condemns racism, xenophobia and hate crimes unequivocally. We will not allow hate or intimidation to become acceptable.
“We will work to ensure that local bodies and programmes have the support and resources they need to fight and prevent racism and xenophobia.
“We reassure all people living in this area that they are valued members of our community.”
Speaking after the meeting she added: “West Sussex communities are welcoming to all people and we need to work together to ensure that there is acceptance and tolerance for those who come from different backgrounds from that of our own.
“Today all councillors showed their unanimous support against hate incidents and hate crime and I hope that residents across our towns and communities join us in this too. We would urge anyone who has experienced a hate incident or a hate crime to report it.”
Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West), leader of West Sussex County Council, said: “It was heartening today to see that the whole council chamber sent a strong message that we deplore such behaviour.
“We will work together to ensure we continue to support our various communities to live and work together in harmony and celebrate the diversity which I believe is one of West Sussex’s great strengths.”
James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East), leader of the Lib Dem group, added: “It’s very important we take this position publicly because there is unfortunately not just in this county but also the wider western world a demonstrable rise in hate crime, xenophobia, intimidation, and harassment.
“We can make a difference in West Sussex. That’s our role and that’s our responsibility.”
Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) argued the ‘vast majority of our residents are decent people who are horrified at the way people are being subjected to vicious words and actions’, while Sue Mullins (Lab, Gossops Green and Ifield East), leader of the Labour group, told the story of Danny Martin a Crawley teenager battling cancer in 1976 who took a stand against racism.
She repeated his words ‘leave the British race and join the human race’, and added: “We must be strong enough to speak out when we see, experience or witness any inappropriate remarks or actions.”
The recent figures for hate crime were revealed during Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne’s performance and accountability meeting last Friday (July 22).
Bernie O’Reilly, deputy chief constable at Sussex Police, acknowledged that hate crime was generally under-reported and while they were not happy with the increase he urged victims to come forward and report incidents.
Between the EU referendum result and Tuesday July 19 the number of race-based hate crimes has increased in Sussex by around 25 per cent compared to the figures from the same period in 2015.
Last year Sussex Police received 197 reports of hate crime, of which 117 were race based, compared to 236 and 185 respectively this year in the same period of time.
Chief Constable Giles York said: “It’s a very low number we are talking about. It’s a high percentage but it’s a very low number, but very unpleasant for the individuals because there’s nothing they can do about it.”
He explained that the majority of hate crimes were not physical attacks, and there was no pattern and many of the incidents were ‘fleeting’.
One example he had been given was a person going into a shop and paying for a 5p carrier bag, which split just as they left the shop.
The person walked back into the shop and said ‘this is an example of daft European laws and foreigners’.
Mrs Bourne noted that the national increase was around 42 per cent and many hate crimes were ‘hostility or prejudice’.
Mr O’Reilly explained that local policing teams were working with communities across Sussex on hate crime, with independent advisory groups being set up to develop good relationships and reinforcing the importance of reporting incidents.
Sussex Police’s website describes hate crime as one where a ‘perpetrator’s hostility or prejudice against an identifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimised’.
Hate crimes can take several forms including physical attack, threat of attack, or verbal abuse or insults and abusive gestures.
Before the meeting Mrs Bourne said: “For those who do not want to report a hate crime to the police for whatever reason they can now send a report straight to victim support services through the new and improved Self Evident crime reporting app.
“The modified app empowers victims by allowing them to choose the kind of support they want to receive. Ultimately, the app puts the victim in the driving seat.”
“Another benefit of the app is its ability to record and store video, audio and photo evidence. This is particularly good for witnesses of hate crime and subsequently will help individuals feel confident to report it and show that it won’t be tolerated.
“As PCC I am determined to improve this for everyone in Sussex and that is why I fully support any initiative that tackles hate crime, which is a key priority in my Police & Crime Plan.”
Last week new Home Secretary Amber Rudd launched a national hate crime action plan, which includes giving young people and teachers tools to tackle prejudice and hatred, work to see how police forces handle hate crime, and funding for places of worship to increase security measures.
Ms Rudd said: “Those who practise hatred send out a message that it’s okay to abuse and attack others because of their nationality, ethnicity or religious background. That it’s okay to disregard our shared values and promote the intolerance that causes enormous harm to communities and individuals.
“Well, I have a very clear message for them. We will not stand for it. Hatred has no place whatsoever in a 21st-century Great Britain that works for everyone.”
For more information visit the county council’s website.
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