Number of victims reporting hate crimes based on their sexual orientation has more than doubled in Preston in recent years
Reports of hate crimes based on sexual orientation have more than doubled in Preston since 2017, but according to the police, this shows that public have more confidence in the force.
Figures obtained exclusively by the Post, showed that although reports of sexual orientation hate crime have slightly reduced over the past year, they have more than doubled in Preston since 2017.
Statistics provided by a Freedom of Information request made to Lancashire Constabulary by the Post revealed that there were 46 reports of hate crime recorded in Preston in 2017-18, compared with 92 in 2018-2019 and 106 in 2019-2020.
The news comes as a spate of recent homophobic attacks targeting gay people in Liverpool have been reported in recent weeks, according to the BBC.
But representatives of the police say the rise in reports is partly because more people are now reporting incidents, due to the continued efforts by officers to learn appropriate ways to handle hate crimes and tackle other LGBT issues.
And currently, around 500 officers stand as LGBT allies forming as part of the network in Lancashire Police. The force also has a hate crime unit assigned to each local division who specialise in investigating offences and supporting victims.
PC Trevor Syrett, Vice Chair of the LGBT Network for the force said that the police have done 'a lot of work' over the past couple of years to educate officers on issues faced by LGBT members of society.
He was inspired to join the force after his own car windows were smashed in a homophobic attack against him 20 years ago.
The network offers advice to all LGBT staff and allies and works towards improving the relationship between the police and LGBT communities in the county.
Speaking to the Post, he said: "We hope the public can see that Lancashire police is becoming a lot more forward thinking and much more diverse and inclusive.
"We try to engage with the public and we are interested and we are listening. We have hosted focus groups with victims of hate crime and worked with the victims of LGBT hate crime and other local charities who support the trans community.
"The public questions whether officers would understand and empathise their circumstances if they reported a hate crime incident that had happened to them, but we have got a lot of officers who would understand and may have even been in those shoes themselves.
"Although the first officer who attends an emergency incident might not be one of those people, we try to get an officer there to conduct a follow-up who will understand and who has lived it."
The overall number of sexual orientation-based hate crimes reported to Lancashire Police in 2017-18 was 303, compared with 464 in 2018-2019 and a lesser 430 in 2019-2020.
Areas with the highest frequency of reports include Blackpool, Lancaster and Preston, with Preston's number of reports more than doubling over the three year period.
And out of a total of 1197 reported incidents over the three year period, just 99 of those ended with a postal requisition, a charge or a summons to court.
PC Syrett suggested that this is because of lack of evidence or that many victims decide against following through with taking the incident to court.
He added: "Online abuse can be particularly hard to trace. There can be the issue of evidence as it is often one person's word against the other, and we are finding a lot of victims want to report the issue and want to make their voices heard, but don't feel comfortable going to court.
"We also get messages out to all our officers that they can come and speak to the network for any advice on handling certain issues. We are shown on a national scale to be really forward thinking in terms of LGBT issues and how we handle them."
Lancashire Police have been a member of the stonewall index since 2017 and is ranked the second police force behind Cheshire for its LGBT inclusivity and equality.
Lewis Turner, Chief Executive at the Lancashire LGBT organisation was also targeted because he was a gay male back in the early '90's when he was a university student.
He says that the 'appalling' response to his ordeal at the time was down to ignorance, adding that he is 'certain it would be handled by police completely differently today'.
Since then, Lewis has now joined as part of a scrutiny panel for homophobic, bi-phobic ad transphobic hate crime for the Crown Prosecution Service and previously worked as a hate crime officer.
In lockdown, the organisation saw a 40 per cent rise in LGBT people in Lancashire accessing their services for mental health help and support.
Lewis said: "At Lancashire LGBT, we are very happy to support anyone with any issues including victims of hate crime. We want people to know that our virtual door is always open and will also guide people to other victim services available to them.
"It is disheartening that the hate crime figures in certain areas have gone up and it is more expected in the summer when more people are out, but didn't expect it because of the lockdown.
"But on the flip side, it could be considered to be a positive because more people are coming forward to report being victims of hate crime. We have always known the figures don't really reflect what is happening or how many people are subject to this abuse - it is just the tip of the iceberg.
"It shows people are putting more trust in the police and feeling like they can report it. Lancashire Police have done a lot of work with the LGBT communities and I know they are committed to doing all they can to help people who are victims of hate crime.
"We will always refer people to appropriate victim services and we have our gateway service of information and support where people can make self referrals via our website.
"In my years working as a hate crime officer and with this charity, I have seen a huge change in people's attitudes towards the LGBT community. People are much more open minded and accepting than ever before.
"We would still always encourage victims and witnesses of hate crime to report it where they can. We all have a responsibility to call out any hate crime we see and put a stop to it. In society, we have a shared responsibility to look out for one another and be more inclusive."
A spokesperson from Lancashire Police said: "Everyone in our county should be allowed to live their lives free from harassment and the fear of hate crime.
"Hate crime causes great distress to its victims and we are committed to investigating all crimes and incidents motivated by hate, supporting victims and bringing offenders to justice.
"Not all hate incidents will amount to criminal hate offences, but it is equally important that these are reported and recorded.
"Evidence of the hate element is not a requirement. You do not need to personally think the incident to be hate related. It can be anyone’s perception that there is a hate motivation."
Information on how to report a hate crime can be found here.
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