A victim of a vicious racist attack that left him fearing for his life has today told of the lasting impact hate crime can have.
Lancashire Police deals with reports of hate crime on a daily basis but campaigners warn the official figures represent a small fraction of the problem.
The number of cases in the county rose by more than a third last year to 1,064 – most of which were racially motivated – following efforts to give victims more confidence to come forward.
Experts say Lancashire is leading the way when it comes to finding new ways to support victims of hate crime.
Street musician Elavi Dowie, from Preston, said he is no stranger to racial abuse but only came to realise the full scale of the problem when he was savagely beaten by a gang of racist thugs last month.
The former UCLan student was performing in Blackpool when they began swearing and shouting racial slurs at him.
I was hit with my speaker, beaten around the head and my shirt was ripped off. I felt at the time I was fighting for my life – I still have nightmares about it.Elavi Dowie
“They started abusing me, telling me I was dressed like a tramp, and then the racial abuse started.
“They just went crazy. I was hit with my speaker, beaten around the head and my shirt was ripped off. I felt at the time I was fighting for my life – I still have nightmares about it.”
Three people have been arrested and bailed following the attack,
Now Mr Dowie works with several hate crime charities, including the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, set up in honour of the Lancashire teen who was murdered because of the way she dressed, to raise awareness.
In 2014, there were 349 racially motivated incidents alone in Preston, a seven per cent increase on the previous year. Of those, 135 were classed as crimes.
A further 118 incidents were reported in Chorley and Leyland in that time, 45 of which were recorded as crimes by police.
Chief Insp Ian Mills, force lead for hate crime at Lancashire Police, said: “How many times might a person have been a victim of hate crime because they were different since they were born?
“The research around that says it be hundreds and hundreds of times.
“It can be a wide range of things from criminal assault through to harassment.” Mr Dowie said racial abuse is a common occurence and under-reporting of hate crime is a serious problem.
He added: “People don’t report it because they don’t see what’s happened to them as a crime.
“They think they need that violent element for it to be a crime. But there is no low level crime.”
Campaigners say a lack of confidence in the police to investigate can also mean many victims stay silent.
But Stephen Brookes, coordinator for the Disability Hate Crime Network and ambassador for Disability Rights UK, said Lancashire is leading the way in helping to break down those barriers. Third-party reporting centres have been set up across the county to offer independent support to help victims provide a statement.
Home Office guidance highlights the work around disability hate crime in Blackpool as a shining example of how it can increase the number of incidents being reported.
Mr Brookes, who lives in Blackpool, said third party reporting in Lancashire had increased reporting confidence by “around 250 per cent” in recent years.
He added: “Disabled people often think the police won’t do anything or people don’t want to feel like a nuisance – we have broken these myths.
“What we do in Lancashire is heavily regarded nationally as best practice.
“We get disabled people who are volunteers, who are trained in the process of taking reports.
“It gives them confidence, that somebody disabled is listening to somebody disabled.”
Since he started working to support victims of disability hate crime, he said, the number of reports nationally has soared from under 100 a year to around 1,000.
As well as supporting victims, police are working to tackle the causes of hate crime, in part by helping to educate offenders. Chief Insp Mills said: “It’s about community cohesion – all these people live within all our communities.
“I would look at restorative justice, if I could. I would look at intervening early, especially with younger offenders.”
A recent event in Preston, he said, saw around 30 disabled people meet with police who helped explain exactly what constitutes a hate crime and how victims can report it.
“The feedback was fantastic,” he added. “It is just amazing to watch.”