Lynne Featherstone speech on hate crime
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Lynne Featherstone gave a speech at the Association of Chief Police Officer's conference in Birmingham on Wednesday 14 March. This speech is checked against delivery.
‘I want to start by saying thank you, for inviting me here to launch the Government’s new Hate Crime Action Plan - ‘Challenge it, report it, stop it’.
‘But action plans mean nothing without people to put them into effect. That’s why it’s such a pleasure to see a room full of people who are committed to making change happen on the ground - whether that’s by supporting victims, dealing with offenders or challenging the underlying attitudes that allow hatred to fester.
‘Hate is the most appalling of human emotions: it is destructive, it is ignorant, and it is abhorrent.
‘Last year I attended a candlelit vigil in Trafalgar Square in memory of Ian Baynham, who was kicked to death in 2009 because of hostility to the fact that he was gay.
‘I was shocked by the length of the roll call of others who had been killed. We owe it to every other victim, to keep challenging the idiotic, backwards attitudes that keep hate crime alive. I cannot, literally cannot, understand how any human being can hurt another simply because they are threatened by difference.
‘As individuals, and as a community, we should be embracing each other’s differences, not persecuting each other for them.
To abuse or attack someone because of who they are is inexcusable, it denies the most basic of rights - to live life as who you are.
‘At its core hate crime undermines the very principles of freedom, equality and inclusion that define modern Britain. And whilst all crime damages society, hate crimes have an impact beyond the individual crime itself, dividing communities and creating fear and suspicion.
Progress since Macpherson
‘I think we have come a long way in the years since the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence. His death, brutal and senseless as it was, was a catalyst for change - not just in Government and law enforcement, but in public attitudes too.
‘I must say that much of this change has been brought around by the tireless work of committed individuals, some of whom are here today.
‘You will hear later from Professor John Grieve who delivered significant advances across the police service following the publication of the Macpherson report in 1999. John’s commitment to the issue remains, and he now chairs the Independent Hate Crime Advisory Group which brings community representatives into the heart of Government, to inform our activity and act as a critical friend.
‘Whilst the work of the Group is crucial, it would be unjust not to single out the unwavering commitment of Stephen’s family, in particular Doreen and Neville Lawrence.
‘Despite the extraordinary pain they suffered, their steely determination to bring about justice and ensure that other victims are better supported is remarkable. I am so pleased that Neville Lawrence will address you today and I hope that his words will inspire you to continue your work to fight this devastating crime.
That work has seen significant progress.
- Victims of hate crime now have greater legal protection, with enhanced sentencing powers available to the courts to reflect the seriousness of such offences.
- The police, criminal justice agencies, local authorities and voluntary sector organisations have all worked together to improve their understanding and their response to hate crime. The fact that you are all here today is a powerful testament to that.
‘But whilst I am delighted that the UK is now recognised as a world leader in this field, we must not think that progress means the problem has been solved. Far from it.
‘More than 48,000 hate crimes were reported to the police in England Wales and Northern Ireland in 2010. That is far, far, too many.
‘Too many people abused or spat at in the street. Too many people attacked. Too many people intimidated by vile threats online. And too many people killed.
‘We owe it to these victims to keep challenging the despicable, bigoted attitudes that keep hate crime alive.
More than just five strands
‘Before I talk to you about the Government’s approach, I wanted to mention that our five strands of monitored hate crime, race, faith, sexual orientation, gender identity or perceived disability, are not a complete list.
‘A tragic example of the importance of this is the murder in 2007 of Sophie Lancaster, who was attacked alongside her boyfriend Robert because the offenders took issue with their appearance.
‘The sentencing Judge correctly referred to the case as a hate crime and in doing so highlighted the importance of ensuring that all victims of crimes motivated by prejudice receive the justice they deserve. It is essential that the lessons learnt on monitored hate crime apply to any local or emerging hostility that concerns our communities.
‘The work that Sylvia Lancaster, Sophie’s mum, has done to challenge the bigotry that fuels such attacks is hugely welcomed. I have great admiration for Sylvia, another member of our Group, who will be outlining her work later today.
‘As I hope I have made clear - the Government is absolutely committed to tackling hate crime, and to protecting and supporting victims.
‘As a first step, we made a clear commitment in our Programme for Government to improve the way that hate crimes - including those against disabled and transgender victims - are recorded. We are delivering on that commitment, and police recorded hate crimes will be published as national statistics for the first time this summer, giving the public a clearer picture of where the problems are and the true size of the problem.
‘But we also believe that the lead for tackling hate crime has to come from you, not from bureaucrats in Whitehall. It is the people who know the victims, who know the offenders, who understand the issues in the communities where hate crime is happening who have the power to generate change - I want the local response to hate crime to reflect local priorities and local experience, not just a Minister’s priorities.
‘So we have ditched the old approach of top-down micromanagement and performance targets. And from November, elected Police and Crime Commissioners will give victims and the public a powerful new voice at local level.
‘The Action Plan I am launching today is not about telling you how to do your job. Or telling you what matters to people in the communities you serve.
‘Instead, it focuses on what Government can do to support you, and on those things that only Government can do:
Setting a strategic direction
Making information available
- Sharing new ideas and best practice
And, where necessary, passing legislation
‘The plan is based on three core principles, which I think get to the heart of the problem.
‘It sets out how we will work to prevent hate crime happening in the first place, by challenging the attitudes and behaviours that foster hatred, and encouraging early intervention to reduce the risk of incidents escalating.
‘It sets out how we will work to increase reporting of hate crime, by building victims’ confidence to come forward, and ensuring that the right support is available at national and local level when they do.
‘It also sets out how we will work across the Criminal Justice System to improve the operational response to hate crime - supporting a more effective end-to-end process, with agencies identifying hate crimes early, managing cases jointly and dealing with offenders robustly.
‘Let me tell you a bit more about each of these.
‘Prevention matters because in the long-term, the answer to hate crime lies in challenging the attitudes and behaviours that drive it. And in intervening early before verbal abuse turns into physical attack.
‘We all have a personal responsibility to stand up and challenge prejudice and hatred. But the Government has a particular responsibility to lead by example and take opportunities to celebrate diversity and highlight the positive contribution that everyone makes to our society.
‘So the Action Plan brings together preventative work by a number of Government departments, including:
- Working with the voluntary sector to make resources available to help teachers tackle bullying motivated by prejudice
- Publishing new analysis of hate crime victimisation from the British Crime Survey
- Using the Olympics and Paralympics to change perceptions of disabled people and how diversity matters throughout the Olympics
- And publishing the Government’s response to the appalling abuse at Winterbourne View, which will set out measures to better protect people with learning difficulties in the care system
‘However, when crimes do take place, we need to ensure that victims feel able to report and that they are supported in doing so.
‘Victims matter because hate crime is still hugely under-reported, particularly for those who feel isolated, including disabled and transgender people, Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities and new migrants.
‘And one of the most common reasons for people not coming forward is because they don’t think they will be taken seriously, or that the authorities will be able to protect them from further abuse.
‘To combat this, the Action Plan includes:
- Work to engage communities at risk of hate crime to raise their awareness of the law and how the law can protect them and how it can be used
- Work with the voluntary sector to identify and share best practice on third-party reporting centres because often individuals don’t feel they can come forward
- The development of the True Vision website, which allows victims to report hate crimes online and access a range of other organisations and support
- And work to ensure that PCC-led commissioning of local victims’ services takes proper account of the needs of hate crime victims, which will be hugely important in the coming years
‘But improving the operational response to hate crime matters too. We have one of the world’s most comprehensive legislative frameworks for protecting victims of hate crime, and punishing offenders.
‘But it is only as effective as the system around it. That is, it works best when the Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the National Offender Management Service, local partners and voluntary organisations are all joining forces to bring offenders to justice
‘We want a Criminal Justice System that is joined-up in its approach to hate crime, where our shared ambitions are matched by practice on the ground, and reflected in better outcomes for victims.
‘From the moment a crime is reported to the police, we must ensure that hate crime cases are carefully managed through all the stages of the process by professionals who understand the issues and keep victims informed as to what is happening.
‘And I call on the courts to use the enhanced sentencing powers currently at their disposal. At the same time, the Government will keep the law under review, taking action where necessary to increase the protection it offers victims.
‘To make that vision a reality, the Action Plan brings together commitments from across the Criminal Justice System, including:
- Publishing the new Hate Crime Manual for police officers
- Amending the 2003 Criminal Justice Act so that murders motivated by hatred of disabled or transgender people have a sentence starting point of 30 years
- Considering the evidence for further changes to the law on aggravated offences and on incitement to hatred
- And publishing a hate crime framework for prisons and probation that helps staff manage the risks posed by hate crime offenders.
‘None of this is to overlook the vital work you are already doing to tackle hate crime on our streets and in our neighbourhoods. Across the country, more victims are coming forward, which is the result of your efforts.
‘But I want this Action Plan to be seen as a powerful statement of the Government’s intent - working together, we can beat hate crime, and we won’t stop until we’ve done it.’