Disputes over masks fuelling racially aggravated hate crime
Disputes over face masks are fuelling racially aggravated hate crime, a senior police officer has said.
Metropolitan Police Service Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said arguments over the coverings are leading people to hurl racist abuse.
He told members of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee that hate crime of all types has risen by 17 per cent in London in the year to September, and 25 per cent nationally.
The committee heard that hate crime linked to race and religion has gone up 16.9 per cent in London in that period, sexual orientation 14.9 per cent and disability 13.4 per cent.
Deputy Mayor Sophie Linden said that hate crime in the capital remains above the levels seen in the wake of the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Mr Ephgrave told the committee that racist crimes were driven mainly by either neighbourhood disputes or arguments in the street.
“It seems that the vast majority of particularly the race crimes that we are seeing now, relate to what might be described as localised neighbourhood disputes, or strangers abusing people in the street,” he said.
“Most of those remain at the aggravated stage rather than the motivated stage, so there will be an argument about something – and one of the most common triggers actually currently is the use or not of face masks.
“So someone will challenge someone about the use or not of a face mask, and then in the course of that interaction will then use racist language.”
Police believe the rise in hate crime is also being driven by frustration among members of the public, people feeling more vulnerable and people with mental health issues not being able to access support services.
Mr Ephgrave said reporting may have increased due to members of the public being less tolerant of hate crime.
Nationally in England and Wales the number of hate crimes recorded by police hit a record high in 2019/20, with 105,090 offences.
This was a rise of eight per cent compared with 97,446 offences in 2018/19, and the highest number since records began in 2011/12, when the number of reports was 32,969.
According to Home Office data, race hate crimes accounted for about three-quarters (72 per cent) of offences (76,070) and this had risen by six per cent since 2018/19 when 72,041 were recorded.