The hidden epidemic of hate crime

From L-R: Rob Maltby, Sophie Lancaster, Jess and Hajra Khote

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Far more people need to be willing to report hate crimes, say researchers carrying out what is believed to be the UK's biggest study of the problem.

It is hoped the University of Leicester's two-year project will "give a voice" to those affected and ultimately encourage others to speak out.

The study comes after the last Crime Survey found the public experienced 260,000 hate crimes - more than six times the number reported to police.

The BBC spoke to hate crime victims, campaigners and the police to find out more.

'Jess' - The transgender woman

Jess at meeting Jess says the police have got better at handling hate crime

Jess, a woman in her late 40s, from Leicestershire, runs a support group for "anyone transgender". In the past six years, she has lost seven members of the group to suicide.

"A lot of it was down to the amount of abuse they got. The name-calling, things painted on the outside of their houses."

Jess herself has been attacked because of her appearance.

"My car was parked on the side of the road and I heard a noise. I saw a youth sitting on my car and told him to go away," she said.

"But he came back 10 minutes later with a few of his friends and it quickly turned into a nasty fight.

"One managed to get a hell of a blow onto my left eye. If it had been a fraction of an inch lower, I would have probably lost an eye. It would have put an end to my career as at the time, I was a heavy goods' driver."

Jess says she often feels vulnerable when out and about.

Three years ago, on Leicester's Pride night, she was making her way to her car when she was approached.

Hate crime is fuelled by prejudice.

"As I walked across the car park, I heard someone say 'there's one of them'," she said.

"I got in as quickly as I could and drove off. I was followed for about two miles and when I stopped at traffic lights, they pulled up beside me and started shouting at me.

"I didn't know how much further they were going to follow me, I was beginning to get worried but as we got to the outskirts of Leicester, they dropped back and I was really glad to get home.

"I was so scared that I rang the police because I thought if they found someone else, they might not make it through the night."

Callum Fields - The metaller

Callum Fields Callum Fields says appearances can be deceptive

Callum Fields, a 23-year-old metaller from Leicester, has also been on the receiving end of abuse because of the way he dresses.

Describing an attack on him and a group of his friends a few years ago, he said: "It was mad. One minute it was 12-year-olds shouting names like Goth and greb and next minute it was adults attacking us with golf clubs.

"I found it very confusing as I had money in my pocket but they didn't want to steal anything. They were just attacking us because we were Goths or moshers as they said.

"I'm a heavy metal fan and got into it when I was about 14.

"The way I dress now - it's not a specific thing to fit in or anything. I'm a metal head. I like to headbang and I only started to get women when my hair was long, it's as simple as that.

"Sometimes we're not as different as we look. By trade I'm a teacher in an FE college for adults with learning difficulties.

"We may dress differently, we may like different music but we eat the same food and drink the same drinks.

"It seems weird that people have an obsession with judging people by aesthetics. Never judge a book by its cover."

Hajra Khote - The Muslim woman

Hajra Khote Hajra Khote left South Africa after campaigning against apartheid

Hajra Khote is a 70-year-old Muslim woman from South Africa. She left 45 years ago after being an active campaigner against apartheid.

At a public meeting to discuss the future of a scout hut in Leicester - which some people wanted turned into a Muslim community centre - Ms Khote asked a question and was called a terrorist by a member of the audience.

She did not report the matter herself but the police were present at the meeting and prosecuted the man on her behalf. After pleading guilty at Leicester Magistrates' Court, he was fined £50 and ordered to pay a £20 victim's surcharge.

"I just don't understand why people do these things," said Ms Khote.

"You get called a Paki, told to go home and people even shout at me when I'm in my front garden. We've got used to it but it makes you angry.

"Generally Leicester is a very tolerant place but since 9/11 and every time there is a terrorist attack, I feel like the hate crime incidents go up. If women go into town wearing the hijabs and niqabs, they are pulled and some people spit on them.

"That's why I avoid going into town after a high profile incident as I just don't want the confrontation.

"I fought against apartheid but then people turn against people like me and it's very frustrating.

"You just don't want to waste police time with these little things. If someone is calling me names from a car, how can I report that to the police? I don't even know who it was."

Sylvia Lancaster - The campaigner

Sylvia Lancaster (Left) Sophie's mother Sylvia Lancaster helps young people who are targets of hate crime

In 2007, 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster, was kicked and stamped to death in a Lancashire park because she dressed as a Goth.

Her mother, Sylvia, now campaigns for children and young people to be educated about being tolerant towards others, through the S.O.P.H.I.E (Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance, Everywhere) Foundation.

She said: "Before Sophie's death, I worked in three local high schools and I became very aware then of the prejudice and intolerance, particularly emos and young people of alternative subcultures face, as they would tell me on a daily basis.

"Hate crime across all the sectors is under-reported and particularly with alternative hate crime, because very often young people have been to the police and have been disillusioned."

In April, Greater Manchester Police became the first police force to start recording attacks on members of subcultures, such as Goths and emos, as hate crimes.

Crimes committed against someone because of their disability, gender-identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation are the four categories used by all other police forces.

Dr Neil Chakraborti - The academic

Dr Neil Charkaborti Dr Neil Chakraborti said people affected by hate crime needed to be given a voice

The man leading the University of Leicester study, Dr Neil Chakraborti, said he had also experienced hate crime. The academic was walking down the road when somebody swore at him and called him "a paki".

Dr Chakraborti said his team had heard from more than 1,000 hate crime victims so far.

"There are all sorts of factors behind committing hate crime," he said.

"Sometimes it might be about hate, sometimes it might be a resentment towards strangers or an unfamiliarity with difference or it might be picking on someone because they are vulnerable or worthy of scorn.

"It takes a variety of forms, verbal abuse, name-calling, harassment to more brutal acts of physical violence.

"We want to give a voice to people affected by hate, prejudice and bigotry because these voices don't get heard, these experiences don't get reported through official channels.

"We're concerned that many people are affected but we just don't know about it."

Darren Goddard - The police

Darren Goddard Darren Goddard said it was vital people reported all hate crime to the police

Leicestershire Police's hate crime officer, Darren Goddard, has been working with the research team and says it is vital for people to report hate crime.

"People may think it's nothing or not worth reporting but it's really important to tell us what's happening."

As a gay man, Mr Goddard said he had come to accept a certain level of verbal abuse. "There is no specific offence of hate crime but it can be anything from a fight to verbal abuse and it can also be damage to property.

"But the difference with hate crime is that it's about people being targeted because they are seen to be different or they are different.

"Sometimes with crimes, we see reasons why it is committed. For example, a burglar may say they are going to burgle a house because they need to sell the items for money.

"But hate crime is different as it becomes really personal," he said.

The Hidden Epidemic of Hate Crime will be shown on BBC East Midlands' Inside Out on Monday 9 September at 19:30 BST.

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