The torrent of vile racist abuse directed at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka in the aftermath of England’s penalty defeat in the Euro 2020 final demonstrated bigotry is never far from the surface in Britain.
As the players hit back at the racists who abused them, new figures show that a record number of people in Leicester and the wider county complained of being harassed because of their race or religion last year.
But despite the city’s proud multiculturalism, the number of racially or religiously aggravated harassment cases has seen a sharp rise.
In four years, figures have more than tripled, from 39 in 2016 to 100 in 2020, according to the latest research conducted by LeicestershireLive parent company, Reach.
Police recorded crime figures show that reports of racially or religiously aggravated harassment, which includes online abuse, have been growing for some time – and reached a 21st century high in 2020.
In Leicestershire, a total of 184 crimes were reported to police last year, although many more may have gone unreported.
That is almost three times higher than the 63 offences recorded the previous year and in 2016, the year of the Brexit referendum, when there were 65 offences.
There were also 56 offences in 2017, and 78 in 2018.
Back in 2003, the year of the Iraq war, there were 68 crimes of racially or religiously aggravated harassment reported to Leicestershire Police.
Leicester had the highest number of offences last year (100), followed by Charnwood (30) and then Harborough (11).
Harassment is when someone behaves in a way which makes their target feel distressed, humiliated or threatened.
That can include abuse or bullying online, unwanted phone calls, letters, emails and visits, or verbal abuse and threats.
If the harassment is racially or religiously aggravated, it means a victim has been deliberately targeted because of their race or religion, and it is judged in the courts as a more serious, or aggravated, offence.
The maximum sentence for harassment is six months in prison, while for racially or religiously aggravated harassment, that stands at two years in custody.
But of the offences recorded last year, only six offences of racially or religiously aggravated harassment (3 per cent) have so far resulted in an offender being charged or summonsed in Leicestershire.
Across England and Wales there were a total of 4,810 crimes of racially or religiously aggravated harassment last year, up by 39 per cent from 3,452 the previous year, and the highest number seen in the 21st century.
Jo Parks, services director at Victim Support, said: “Racism and abuse is never acceptable and we strongly condemn it.
“We’ve been concerned to see rising reports of race hate crime throughout the pandemic and have seen significant increases in the number of victims coming to us for support.
“This has been driven largely by the changes in lockdown restrictions and high profile events such as the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent trial which received widespread coverage.
“These hate crimes have had a damaging impact on victims’ safety and sense of self-worth, which can take years to rebuild.
“We want victims of racial abuse to know we are here for them and help and support is available whenever they need it, regardless of whether they have reported the incident to the police or how long ago it took place.”
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A spokesperson from the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “No one should ever be harassed because of their race or religion.
“There could be a number of reasons behind an increase in police recorded hate crime – for example, it could be a sign of improvements in recording practices.
“However, we know that victims of hate crime may not report incidents if, for example, they have low trust in police and criminal justice agencies.
“More still needs to be done to improve the process and the quality of support for victims.
“This includes effective hate crime training for police forces and reform to ensure our hate crime laws are clear and easy to understand.”
Police believe the increase in the number of reported cases can at least in part be explained by forces’ efforts to encourage victims to come forward and improved recording.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for hate crime, said: “Whilst these figures do show a rise in harassment for racial and religiously aggravated crime, the long term picture points to that being the result of more victims coming forward and improved recording by the police.
“But it is still concerning to see that people are being targeted for who they are.
“Over recent years police have worked hard to improve our response to hate crime, including better recording of offences and more training for officers.
“Everyone has the right to live their lives without fear of being attacked, either physically or verbally.
“Police take all reports of threats and abuse seriously and we will work to bring perpetrators to justice. I encourage all victims to report to the police by calling 101 or online True Vision at www.report-it.org.uk.”
Breakdown of number of crimes of racially or religiously aggravated harassment in Leicestershire recorded by police between 2016-2020:
Community Safety Partnership // 2016 // 2017 // 2018 // 2019 // 2020
Blaby // 5 // 5 // 2 // 2 // 8
Charnwood // 8 // 4 // 10 // 7 // 30
Harborough // 2 // 0 // 2 // 5 // 11
Hinckley and Bosworth // 1 // 1 // 1 // 4 // 9
Leicester // 39 // 40 // 53 // 41 // 100
Melton // 1 // 1 // 2 // 0 // 2
North West Leicestershire // 2 // 0 // 2 // 2 // 7
Oadby and Wigston // 4 // 5 // 2 // 1 // 7
Rutland // 1 // 0 // 1 // 0 // 4
Unassigned Leicestershire // 2 // 0 // 3 // 1 // 6
Total // 65 // 56 // 78 // 63 // 184