Call for law change over increase in homophobic hate crimes in London

By Sam Francis
BBC News, London

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image copyrightGetty Images
image captionIn the year up to October there were 3,111 recorded hate crimes based on sexual orientation in London

Homophobic hate crimes in London have increased by 55% in five years, prompting calls for changes to the law.

Latest figures show there were 3,111 hate crimes based on sexual orientation in the 12 months up to October.

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for mayor of London, called for new laws and tougher sentencing for homophobic attacks.

Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was "too simplistic to think that creating a new offence will solve the problem".

image copyrightBradley Birkholz
image captionBradley Birkholz said he found London to be "hostile towards any kind of difference"

YouTuber and campaigner Bradley Birkholz said he moved to London about a year ago, after growing up in California, hoping to find a "progressive paradise" for LGBTQ+ people.

Instead he "found a city hostile towards any kind of difference whatsoever".

After only two months in London Mr Birkholz was assaulted. Since then he has been regularly verbally abused, he told the BBC.

"I have to re-route my schedule to avoid parts of London with large drunk crowds because people are emboldened to harass LGBTQ+ people like me.

"I try to avoid the Tube at night but when I do take the Tube I use it in fear."

Homophobic hate crimes in London. Crimes reported in the year ending October. Latest figures show there were 3,111 hate crimes based on sexual orientation in the last 12 months. In 2017/18 it was 2607, in 2016/17 it was 2438 in 2015/16 it was 2333 and in 2014/15 it was 2016 .

Between 2014-15 and 2018-19 the number of recorded hate crimes based on sexual orientation across England and Wales went up from 5,591 to 14,491 - a rise of 160%.

Hate crimes against transgender people have nearly quadrupled in the last five years, to 2,333 reports last year.

But campaign group Stonewall said 81% of people who experienced LGBTQ+ hate crime did not report it to the police.

image copyrightANDY RAIN
image captionReports of homophobic hate crimes tend to spike in the months after London Pride, held every June

Josh Bradlow, head of policy for Stonewall, said: "A crucial part of increasing people's confidence in reporting hate crimes is knowing they will be treated seriously.

"This is why it's so important that hate crimes based on sexual orientation and/or trans identity are treated as aggravated offences."

"If people are held accountable for what they say and do I think we will see homophobia go down," Mr Birkholz added.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionShaun Bailey said he would lobby the Conservative government to make homophobic hate crime an aggravated crime

Mr Bailey said he would campaign for the new government to make homophobic hate crime an aggravated crime in line with racial and religious hate crime - with the aim of ensuring tougher sentences.

"Too many Londoners feel unsafe on our streets," he said.

"As someone who has experienced racial hate both on the streets and online, I stand in total solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, many of whom suffer horrible and unacceptable abuse.

"The current mayor has failed to act to protect the most vulnerable in the city from the scourge of hate crime."

image copyrightReuters
image captionSadiq Khan has invested £6m to "tackle hate crime in all its forms" a spokesman said

A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: "Everyone should be concerned that disgusting hate crimes of all kinds are on the rise nationally.

"It is too simplistic to think that creating a new offence will solve the problem of bigotry and hate - and homophobia as an aggravating factor can already be taken into account when sentencing.

"In London, Sadiq is investing a record £6m tackling hate crime in all its forms."

Boris Johnson's legacy

Sian Berry, London mayoral candidate for the Green Party, said: "Greens have been calling for an end to the hierarchy of hate crimes for years, so crimes motivated by a hatred of sexual orientation, disability or gender reassignment are treated equally to those against race and religion.

"There is a clear link between rising levels of hate crimes and thoughtless, inflammatory language by public figures like former mayor of London Boris Johnson, which makes bigots think they can get away with criminal behaviour."

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Liberal Democrat candidate Siobhan Benita said: "Making homophobic hate crime an aggravated crime in line with racial and religious hate has been our policy for many years.

"It's ironic that one of the most shameful instances of homophobia came from the last Tory mayor of London, Boris Johnson."

A government spokesperson said the prime minister was "a firm advocate of people being allowed to choose who they love and believes that the freedom to love whom you want is a vital component of any democracy".

"During his time as foreign secretary in 2016, the PM scrapped a controversial ban on pride flags being flown from UK embassies and consulates around the world.

"As mayor of London, [he] backed the campaign banning anti-gay adverts on the Tube, and he has voted in favour of equal marriage".

The London mayoral election will be held on 7 May 2020.

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