Revealed: the rise of reported hate crimes in County Durham

By Ben Sladden

Race hate crime in the North-East has soared to record levels since the EU referendum last year, a new report has revealed.

In the Durham Constabulary area, 66 race hate crimes were reported—an increase of 16 percent since the Brexit vote.

The Press Association, who exposed these figures, cross-referenced data on racist offences with the results of the EU referendum, showing that there was a rise in race hate crime in 36 police force areas which voted to leave the EU, one of which being County Durham.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suggested that a small number of people felt the vote gave them a mandate “to legitimise inexcusable racism and prejudice”. Although the chairman of the EHRC, David Isaac, said that “the vast majority of people who voted to leave the European Union did so because they believed it was best for Britain and not because they are intolerant of others”.

The UKIP leader Paul Nuttall, who was recently defeated in the Stoke Central by-election, has rubbished claims of a correlation between the Brexit vote and a spike in hate crime. Mr Nuttall told The Independent that “a lot of that [rise in hate crimes] is fabricated”.

Likewise, Deputy Editor of the online libertarian magazine spiked, Tom Slater, spoke on Daily Politics, labelling the reports an attempt to “defame Brexit.”

Speaking on the rise of race hate crimes, a spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said: “Compared to 2015/16 we have seen a slight rise in both reported hate incidents and crime but these are still very low and we suspect there are significant levels of under-reporting.

“We would actively encourage anyone who feels they have been a victim of hate crime to report it to the police by calling 101 so we can help them.”

“We would actively encourage anyone who feels they have been a victim of hate crime to report it to the police by calling 101 so we can help them.”

Durham People of Colour Association (DPOCA), a student group representing BME students at the University, has been running a campaign, ‘Recognise and Resist’, drawing attention to the experiences of racial abuse suffered by BME students in Durham.

One anonymous testimonial claims that someone in a passing car shouted “oi n***er!” at a student.

One black female student who decided to wear her hair naturally was told “the hairdresser is that way, you dirty wh**e!” Another reports that one student was told that “I can never take you home to my parents… because you’re an Arab”.

“You don’t sound black anymore—Durham’s making you white”, reads another quote.

Iris Lang, the President of DPOCA spoke to Palatinate about the Recognise and Resist campaign, as well as the general experiences of being a BME student at Durham.

“When we asked students earlier this year to share some of the racial harassment they’ve experience at Durham, there were stories of harassment or discomfort by students, by younger children and adults on the street and in town”.

“One of the main issues is that many students don’t have knowledge of the reporting system… I think part of the onus must be on the University/colleges to put more effort into letting students know about the process & necessity of reporting cases of racial abuse.”

Commenting on whether or not the University is doing enough to make Durham a welcoming place for BME students, Iris Lang said:

“I’ve noticed there is a sense of reluctance on the University’s part – based on the few meetings we’ve had with Experience Durham, heads of colleges, etc. – to make the issue of racial harassment more known.

“I’ve noticed there is a sense of reluctance on the University’s part – based on the few meetings we’ve had with Experience Durham, heads of colleges, etc. – to make the issue of racial harassment more known.

“I feel like part of it is for fear of ruining the University’s “image”, and part of it also comes from, as stated by staff from Experience Durham, “not wanting to scare students” or creating “paranoia” about racial harassment on campus, which I think is absolutely ridiculous because 1. it’s not scary, only exhausting, alienating, and in fact multiple BME students – particularly black students – have left Durham after a year of study here due to how isolating the environment is, and 2. raising the profile of racial harassment at Durham would only help to begin much-needed conversations on race and at least begin the process of making Durham a more empathetic place.

“DPOCA is actually looking into conducting some sort of survey or research into BME students who have left the university midway in part due to racial factors.”

“The University does little to reach out to underrepresented groups on campus and it is only through the help of the DSU that we’ve been put in touch with the Equality & Diversity office. I think ultimately, the University needs to establish consistent contact with our Association in order to discuss the concerns and needs of BME students here and negotiate how these can be met”, Iris Lang stated.

In a comment piece that appeared in Palatinate in 2015, a Muslim student, Si Penyaputerbang, spoke of experiencing shouts of Islamophobic abuse from gangs of teenagers in Durham, including references to terrorism and chants of “Allahuakbar”. The author of the article also claimed that Muslim women in Durham usually refrain from walking home alone at night out of fear for their own safety.

In the summer of 2016 swastikas and an ‘SS’ symbol were graffitied onto student homes in Durham. A 2016 Palatinate survey revealed that 90.6 percent of students who said they had “experienced racism directed towards them or anyone else while at Durham” did not report the incident to the University or the Students’ Union.

Durham Police define a hate crime as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a protected characteristic.”

In a University statement to Palatinate, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Alan Houston said: “We do not accept any form of prejudice or discrimination at Durham University.

“We would encourage any student experiencing hate crime to report this via the Police’s online reporting tool, True Vision; and to share their concerns with the College Student Support Office.

“The University works closely with key contacts in the police who have a remit for hate crime, including the Partnerships Officer – Hate Crime Lead/Equality and Diversity; but the first point of call is Rebecca Carey, the Police University Liaison Officer.

“We have a Respect at Study Policy and there is a group of harassment contacts across the University who can provide advice and guidance.”

Responding to how the University plans on making Durham an attractive destination for future BME students, the University spokesperson commented:

“The University is committed to increasing the diversity of the student body, and helping each and every student feel welcomed and valued, and undertakes a range of Access and Student Recruitment activities in this area.
“One example of this is the Increasing Diversity project, through which we are working with schools where there are high levels of BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] diversity to encourage more young people from BAME backgrounds to apply to study at Durham.

“This includes current students returning to their old schools as ambassadors for Durham.”

Statistics for 2016/17 show that BME students make up just 27 percent of the University’s full-time students, although this figure has increased by around 10 percent over the past six years.

Photograph: Durham Constabulary

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