Anecdotal evidence and some police figures suggest there has been a huge rise in cases of racist abuse in the wake of the UK’s referendum vote to leave the European Union.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council revealed a five-fold increase in the number of hate crime incidents reported to a national online portal, True Version.
Sara Thornton, the council’s head, wrote on Thursday (June 30) that 331 hate crime incidents had been reported since the day of the referendum, compared to the weekly average of 63. “Like the vast, vast majority of people, I have been shocked and disgusted at some the cases of racial or anti-immigrant abuse that have been reported this week,” she said, adding that the response of people challenging such behaviour was heartening.
She stressed that the online portal was only one reporting mechanism and that extensive focus on the issue would have influenced the numbers.
Euronews reported earlier last week that the National Police Chiefs’ Council had documented a 57 percent increase in hate crime accounts on its online platform, saying that this was similar to previous trends following major events and that there had been “no major spikes in tensions”. The latest figures suggest there has been a sudden surge in reported cases of abuse.
Read this and weep. Then we all need to individually combat the spread of racism.
chakrabortty</a> <a href="https://t.co/UXWeLMlqmx">https://t.co/UXWeLMlqmx</a></p>— Jonathan Tench (jonnytench) June 30, 2016
After a referendum campaign in which immigration featured heavily, the United Nations stepped in last week to urge Britain to take action to prevent further abuse and to prosecute perpetrators.
“This (the vote) should not be interpreted by some individuals that they have license to take leave of their senses and embrace a mob-like behaviour in respect of vulnerable communities. So we hope this behaviour will come to an end sometimes soon,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Dr Paul Bagguley of Leeds University told the Huffington Post that the referendum result had encouraged a new kind of hostility among some white Britons towards “anyone who is different”, in a surge of “celebratory racism”.
Some of the incidents involved journalists. Sima Kotecha, a reporter for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, recorded an offensive term uttered as she carried out an interview.
In utter shock: just been called p**i in my home town! Haven't heard that word here since the 80s..!— Sima Kotecha (@sima_kotecha) June 27, 2016
Another BBC journalist, radio presenter Trish Adudu, suffered abuse hurled at her in the street in Coventry.
Police confirmed they were investigating the aftermath of a radio interview in which a woman saying she had come from Germany to live in Britain in 1973 was now too afraid to leave her home, having had dog excrement thrown at her door and neighbours tell her they did not want her living in the road.
“If you have witnessed racist or xenophobic harassment, submit your experience here.” Good initiative https://t.co/shtFRn01gL— Aditya Chakrabortty (@chakrabortty) July 1, 2016
Other reported cases have involved physical violence: it is sometimes difficult to tell whether they are linked to Brexit. A trainee accountant in east London driving home from a mosque was attacked in his car by a white man armed with a crowbar.
Among other reported cases in London, classmates of an eight-year-old Polish girl told her to “f*** off back to Poland” the day after the vote, while several German-made cars were vandalised in a street not far from the Polish Social and Cultural Association, which had racist graffiti daubed on the building.
The abuse directed at Poles – symbolising the immigration from EU countries that featured so prominently in the referendum campaign – suggests the referendum has emboldened some people to be openly racist.
The reports have shocked many Britons – moving some to send messages of support to victims.