In Depth

Fact Check: The truth behind post-referendum hate crimes

Ukip's Paul Nuttall says there has been no surge in racist attacks, but police figures paint a different picture. Who is right?

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Ukip leader Paul Nuttell has rubbished claims that there has been a surge in hate crimes following the UK's vote to leave the European Union.

The politician, who faces a critical by-election in Stoke-on-Trent next week, claimed that widespread reports of racist attacks had been "fabricated" to undermine Brexit.

So who is correct?

Who says what?

"I'm not sure I buy into [the rise in hate crimes]," Nuttall told The Independent yesterday, as he prepared to challenge the Labour Party in a city that overwhelmingly backed Brexit. "A lot of that is fabricated."

Although the Ukip leader acknowledged that individual racist attacks had occurred after the referendum, he rejected the notion that it was part of a wider national trend triggered by the vote to leave the EU.

"I think a lot of this has been overblown specifically to try to rubbish Brexit," he said.

His views were echoed by The Spectator's Brendan O'Neill, who described the rise in hate crimes as a "self-sustaining myth" propagated by "leftie" news outlets.

However, anti-racism group Hope Not Hate described Nuttall's rejection of crimes committed against minorities as "crass in the extreme" and warned of another possible spike in hate crimes once Article 50 is invoked later next month.

What are the facts?

Hate crimes may be difficult to define and most police forces rely on the assessment of the victim or bystanders to determine whether an incident was motivated by hate.

Critics of the system, such as O'Neill, say the criteria is too broad and subjective and that hate crimes are therefore over-recorded. 

Nevertheless, government figures obtained by the Press Association reveal that three-quarters of police forces in England and Wales saw record levels of hate crime reported in the three months following the vote in June last year. 

The number recorded between July and September increased from 10,793 in 2015 to 14,295 during the same period last year, according to the statistics published earlier this week. 

Three forces - the Metropolitan Police, Greater Manchester Police and West Yorkshire Police – recorded more than 1,000 individual crimes each. Only four reported a decrease.

According to the National Police Chiefs' Council, racially or religiously aggravated crimes have levelled out, but the numbers are "still far too high".

Who's right?

Nuttall's claim that xenophobic attacks have been fabricated in order to further a political agenda is baseless, as no evidence has been found to support this statement.

Statistics may only tell part of the story, but since the same counting system was used before and after the referendum, it is clear that England and Wales witnessed an increase in the number of hate crimes after the EU referendum, even if the BBC's Dominic Casciani highlights an important caveat. 

"It can't confidently be claimed as a quarterly national record across the UK because of the complicated way that hate crimes are counted," he says. "The long-term picture won't become clear for months."

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