St Helens councillor calls for zero tolerance approach to hate crimes

Jeanie Bell, cabinet member for community safety
Jeanie Bell, cabinet member for community safety

The people of St Helens need to take a “united stance” against hate crime, a senior councillor has said.

The term ‘hate crime’ can be used to describe a range of criminal behaviour that is motivated by hostility or demonstrates hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

Last year St Helens Council’s safer communities overview and scrutiny panel launched a review into hate crimes in the borough.

The review found that, between November 2017 and November 2018, there were 222 hate crimes reported in St Helens.

The cabinet’s response to the review was discussed at its meeting this week.

Labour’s Jeanie Bell, cabinet member for community safety, said: “As the new cabinet member with responsibility for community safety, some of my priorities for this year are to protect people and support victims first.

“And I will be promoting a zero tolerance approach to those whose actions are motivated by hate in this borough.

“I believe this approach will make St Helens a safer place to live, and work and socialise, which is what we all want and why we’re all here.”

Coun Bell called on her Labour colleagues to “call out” those who display hateful behaviour, particularly those who do so on social media.

“I think recently everybody in this room will have seen with our own eyes, vitriol in social media, racism, homophobia, casual misogyny,” Coun Bell said.

“And these types of things on social media and social networks are the beginnings of hate-filled behaviour becoming more socially acceptable.

“And by not challenging that and not calling it out, which I feel we all have a responsibility to do, it will prevent victims from coming forward.

“So, we’ve all got a part to play as human beings to care and look out for each other.”

Coun Bell said a “cultural and social change” was needed.

The Newton-le-Willows councillor added that the council’s partners, schools and families also need to do their part to tackle hate crime.

Coun Bell said: “We’ll need to work together to send a very clear message to those who perpetuate hate, violence and aggression, that together we as a community will take a united stance against hate crime and we will ensure that our communities are safe and welcome.”

Labour’s John Fulham, who led the scrutiny review on hate crimes, was invited to Wednesday’s meeting.

Coun Fulham said the recent European Elections showed there is “no appetite at large for hate”, pointing to the crushing defeat of far-right activist Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon).

The Moss Bank also criticised the throwing of milkshakes and other items at far-right figures during the EU elections campaign period, although this did not happen in St Helens.

“Whilst some people might think it’s funny, if you’re on the receiving end of it, it isn’t,” Coun Fulham said.

“And if it’s not acceptable for victims that are in minority it is not acceptable for people in the public space.

“It’s simply not an appropriate way to express yourself and it doesn’t do anything to further your argument.”

As part of the review, a hate crime action plan was submitted to cabinet for consideration.

The action plan commits to implementing five recommendations by September 2019.

One of the recommendations is that councillors be given training by Merseyside Police to allow them to become third-party reporting ambassadors for Hate Crime within their wards.

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.

All of the recommendations have been accepted.

However, Coun Bell said she “strongly feels” the input of young people is also needed.

Coun Bell said she believed the younger generations can bring “cultural change forward”.

Cabinet approved the hate crime action plan.