THERE has been a significant rise in hate crimes against Muslims, according to new figures which show a surge in the number of offences reported to police after the murder of soldier Lee Rigby.
But the real scale of the problem could be much higher, with some forces admitting they do not always record the faith of a religious hate-crime victim.
Freedom of information requests were sent by the Press Association to every police force in England and Wales. Of the 43 forces, 24 provided figures on the number of anti-Muslim crimes and incidents recorded.
Britain’s biggest force, the Metropolitan Police, recorded 500 crimes alone. There were 37 in West Yorkshire – up from 24 last year and 17 in 2011.
Humberside Police said there had been 15 offences recorded in 2013, up from only four last year. The data was released after two former soldiers were jailed last week for firebombing a mosque in Grimsby in May four days after the murder of Fusilier Rigby in Woolwich, London.
South Yorkshire Police said it did not record anti-Muslim crimes separately from other forms of religious hate crimes. North Yorkshire Police did not respond to the survey.
Tell Mama, a group which monitors anti-Muslim incidents, said it expected to deal with more than 1,000 cases in the 12 months to March – nearly double the year before.
Fiyaz Mujhal, director of Faith Matters, which runs the project, said reaction to the murder of Fusilier Rigby by two Islamist extremists had caused the number of Islamophobic crimes to “significantly jump”.
“The far right groups, particularly the EDL (English Defence League) perniciously use the internet and social media to promote vast amounts of online hate,” he said.
Mr Mujhal said tougher sentencing was needed to tackle hate crime and branded guidelines by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to monitor social media as “not fit for purpose”.
He said: “They raised the bar of prosecution significantly. Now unless there is a direct threat to somebody on Twitter or Facebook, the CPS will not prosecute.
“We also need more robust sentencing. In one case, a pig’s head was left outside a mosque and the perpetrator came away with a community sentence. When you target a mosque, you are targeting the whole community.”
Assistant Chief Constable John Robins, of West Yorkshire Police, said overall race crime had fallen. But the issue had been identified as a priority and victims were being encouraged to report offences and offered support. He added: “Any rise in a hate crime involving a particular ethnic group or community is of course something we want to address.”
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has revealed 71 incidents were reported to its national community tension team over five days after Fusilier Rigby was murdered on May 22.
Its spokesman on hate crime, Superintendent Paul Giannasi, said: “The police service is committed to reducing the harm caused by hate crime and it is vital that we encourage more victims who suffer crimes to report them to the police or through third party reporting facilities such as Tell Mama. We are working with local police forces, to help improve the way we respond to hate crime and to provide robust and transparent hate-crime data.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “These are despicable crimes that devastate lives and communities. The courts already hand out tougher punishments where race or religion are found to be aggravating factors. The number of people receiving a custodial sentence for these appalling crimes is higher than ever before.”
A CPS spokeswoman said online communication could be offensive, shocking or in bad taste but content had to be “more than simply offensive to be contrary to the criminal law”.
“In order to preserve the right to free speech, the threshold for prosecution must be high and only communications that are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false are prohibited by the legislation,” she said.