Disability hate crimes in St Helens have almost doubled in three years, new figures have revealed.
Last year St Helens Council’s safer communities overview and scrutiny panel launched a review into hate crimes in the borough.
Hate crime is defined as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic”.
Currently there are five centrally-monitored strands of hate crime: race or ethnicity; religion or beliefs; sexual orientation; disability and transgender identity.
The council review found that, between November 2017 and November 2018, there were 222 hate crimes reported in St Helens.
The vast majority of these – 127 – were race related.
The second highest was homophobic hate crimes, with 53 reported, followed by disability hate crimes, with 41 reported between 2017 and 2018.
This is an 86% increase compared to the same period in 2015 and 2016, where there were 22 disability hate crimes.
The council report says the increase in figures is thought to be due to improvements in police recording, raising awareness and different methods of reporting.
Part of this is down to the merging of Knowsley and St Helens to form the EAST policing area of Merseyside in 2016, which saw St Helens afforded a dedicated hate crime coordinator.
The report says the increase in disability hate crime reports has been the result of awareness raising within St Helens, which had not been taking place prior to the merger.
“The hate crime coordinator has been developing relationships with partner agencies in the disability community networks and promoting the reporting of hate incidents,” the report says.
“The highlighting of some high-profile incidents which have resulted in court cases with excellent results, have also been promoted and this appears to have instilled confidence in victims coming forward to report crimes.”
Of the other hate crimes reported between 2017 and 2018, 12 related to religion and two were transgender-related.
The majority of reported hate crimes occur in the town centre area, the report says.
It adds that there have been “spikes” in hate crime following certain events such as the EU referendum and the various UK terrorist attacks in 2017.
On Tuesday, the safer communities overview and scrutiny panel was told that hate crimes in St Helens continues to be a “really steady picture”.
However, Superintendent Louise Harrison, area commander for St Helens, said there is a “reoccurring theme” of people being racially abused on the weekend.
Supt Harrison said: “Clearly one hate time is one too many, but they are quite low in numbers.
“However, we do see, particularly on the weekend, just a reoccurring theme around racial abuse. It tends to be either staff in shops or our taxi drivers.
“I think it’s something that as a borough we’ve just really got to focus on in terms of making sure it’s clear there’s no room for that kind of hate in our communities.
“And that’s something we’re working on.”
One new initiate Merseyside Police want to see is for councillors to become third-party reporting ambassadors, so the public have further ways to report hate crimes.
The review backs this plan and recommends that elected members be given training by Merseyside Police to allow them to carry out this function.
The review also recommends the council supports the force to establish more third-party reporting centres in local community centres, sports centres, libraries and other suitable places.
The review concludes: “We were pleased to hear about the good work being undertaken by the council and its partners in tacking hate crime.
“Hate crime is inflicted on people by others that feel it is acceptable to say and do terrible, indeed illegal, things.
“Whether they claim to not understand their crime or plead ignorance the work must continue to ensure that people do understand that it is totally unacceptable and that there will be consequences for their behaviour.”