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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Police pledge swifter response to racism and homophobia than 'ordinary' crime

Police are looking to drive up reporting of hate crime by promising minorities will see a swifter and tougher response to offenders, than other victims.

The new hate-crime guidance manual is aimed at instigating a cultural change in policing and, as a result, throughout Scotland.

Police will stress to officers that victims from minorities suffer more when a crime is motivated by prejudice than a member of the general public would from the same offence.

Assistant Chief Constable Mike McCormick, of Lothian and Borders Police, said: "We wanted to make sure our own staff were aware of the impact hate crime has.

"If you punch me in the nose because you don't like me because of the colour of my skin, race, sexuality or whatever, that has a longer effect because I'm thinking that not only does this person not like me, but lots of other people won't like me either.

"If someone is already struggling with a disability then a hate crime can leave them thinking not only do I have a physical problem, but I also have a social problem because people don't like me.

"It has a much more significant effect on victims and I want people to pick up on that.

"If people say 'I had not meant any harm' it was just a bit of loose language, we're saying think hard before you say something. And we want victims of hate crime to know this is how we feel."

The new manual brings together best practice from the various eight Scottish forces that was put in place following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in 1999.

The inquiry into the murder of the black teenager in 1993 found the Metropolitan Police to be "institutionally racist", a verdict has had repercussions that continue to affect UK policing.

The manual represents a promise to protect, not only ethnic minorities, but anyone who might be prejudiced against because of age, disability, gender including transgender, race including gypsy/travellers, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.

It is backed by new powers in the Offences Aggravated by Prejudice (Scotland) Act, which was passed in Scottish Parliament earlier this year.

Sergeant Martin White, of the diversity unit at Lothian and Borders Police, one of the officers who wrote the manual, said: "(Under the act] if someone is arrested for hate crime, we must look to put them before the courts as soon as possible, if not from custody then bailed to appear as soon as possible.

"In the courts, hate crime has to be recorded and reflected in the sentence. It gives the courts the chance to give an appropriate sentence.
That might mean restorative justice - addressing problems the victim might have within their community."

Mr McCormick added: "If it manifests again the court will take an even dimmer view of a person perpetrating homophobic or racist crimes."

Chief Constable Ian Latimer, chairman of the Acpos equality and diversity business area, said: "The manual, developed in consultation with partner agencies and victim support charities, gathers best practice and provides officers with guidance on how to recognise and investigate hate crime."

Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill said: "We live in a modern Scotland where there is no excuse for hate crime of any form. This new Acpos guidance has my full support."

Ros Micklem, National Director Scotland for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: "Recognition of the corrosive impact of hate crime upon individuals and communities is clear in this manual, as is the determination to continue to work with communities to provide an effective response."

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