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Andrew Tettenborn: Police should tackle crime regardless of motive


Last week a bunch of low-life losers went up to a foreign-looking young man in Croydon. They allegedly asked where he came from, were told that he was a Kurdish asylum seeker, and proceeded to beat him up within an inch of his life. The community was rightly shocked; quite correctly, the police spared no effort in investigating the crime; and if the thugs alleged to have committed it are found guilty, they deserve, and will probably get, a very stiff sentence.

A hopeful sign that we’re getting a grip on the social problem of violence? Not entirely. Before we smugly congratulate ourselves and go back to the Guardian crossword, we need to pause a moment. Reports of this incident slip easily into a lazy reference to it as the Croydon hate crime: from there to suggestions that hate crime has spiked as a result of Brexit, or media scepticism over the Calais diaspora, or whatever; and from there again, that more must be done about hate crimes generally.

However, from any rational point of view, and certainly from the victim’s, what matters is not so much the hate as the crime. Beating up innocent people you don’t like the look of is just as vile whether you do it because the victim is an immigrant, a Roma, a swot at school or a toff, or for that matter because you just feel like it. There are many criteria for deciding whether a crime deserves particular attention, but the question whether the victim’s situation can be fitted into some arbitrary category of protected characteristics is not one of them. (Indeed, it can yield bizarre results. A few years ago Greater Manchester Police generously added punks, emos and goths to the table of protected species, and last month North Yorkshire added misogyny to its list of hate crimes. Whether this now means officially that something that is a hate crime in Manchester or Harrogate is not one in Maidenhead or Hertford is not revealed).

Nor is it simply a matter of drawing bizarre distinctions. Expecting police forces to record hate crimes as such is an enormous waste of resources, particularly since the Crown Prosecution Service continue to say that anything is a hate crime that the victim or anyone else thinks shows prejudice based on  race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender status.

So West Midlands Police, on the insistence of an earnest Oxford academic, dutifully recorded as hate crime a speech by Amber Rudd at the Tory Conference in Birmingham. Not that this necessarily leads to more prosecutions. The obligation, remember, is to record, and possibly to keep any alleged victims informed. Preposterously trivial affairs, such as the note taken of Amber Rudd’s speech, will remain just that: vain monuments to virtue-signalling, not to mention a reminder to the rest of us of the hours of time taken from real policing for the purpose of producing a formal record that no-one will ever do anything about. Indeed, it doesn’t even lead to accuracy: last month it was reported, following a freedom of information request, that rather like ignorant schoolboys answering a test with anything that came into their heads, the Metropolitan Police had caught the slapdash habit of recording large numbers of anti-Christian activities for convenience’s sake as Islamophobic.

For that matter, is there any evidence that any of this official insistence on hate crime box-ticking increases regard for police or prosecutors among any groups other than smug metropolitan liberals who like to know that they have made their mark on some police computer? Certainly not the victims of vandalism told that theirs is a low priority because they were not targeted for race or religion.

Nor yet, one suspects, the supposed victims. Let religious fanatics or transgender obsessives know that they can make life difficult for any outspoken enemy of theirs merely by murmuring the words “I regard this as a hate crime”, and respect is not the word that comes to mind. Cynical contempt for a decadent western society bent on appeasement, coupled with a resolve to milk the system for all it’s worth, is probably closer to the mark.

And just imagine this: “Sorry, caller, but we can’t record this as a hate crime because insults to goths aren’t on our list. Of course, you could try the next-door force in Greater Manchester.” Amusing enough, perhaps, in an Ealing comedy. But we surely have the right to expect something better from police and prosecutors who, after all, should not be paid to speculate about what counts as to hate, but rather to deal with real-life crimes that affect all of us. If a brick has just come through my window, the wind on my neck is just as cold whatever the motives of the yob who chucked it.

(Image: David Holt)

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Andrew Tettenborn
Andrew Tettenborn
Andrew Tettenborn is a professor of commercial law at a well-known UK university, who also teaches in Europe and elsewhere. In the 2001 General Election he stood as Ukip’s candidate in Bath.

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