Increase in hate crimes in St Albans following Brexit

St Albans Chief Inspector, Shane O’Neill, speaks to councillors at a full district council meeting

St Albans Chief Inspector, Shane O’Neill, speaks to councillors at a full district council meeting - Credit: Photo supplied

Continued complaints of post-Brexit hate crimes being reported to police have been condemned by St Albans councillors.

At a recent full district council meeting, St Albans Chief Inspector Shane O’Neill said: “Since the month leading up to the vote around Brexit, and certainly in the time ever since, we have seen a significant increase in hate crime.”

Although he did not provide statistics, he gave a broad update of crime issues in the district, saying: “I’m sure you must be wondering about hate crime, it certainly is a topic across the nation. We have looked at whether we can attribute it directly to Brexit.”

CI O’Neill said that victims of hate crime locally had referred to the impact of Brexit, particularly when they had been told to ‘go back to your own country’ or ‘you are not wanted here any more’.

He said: “It’s an awful, insidious crime; can we relate it all to Brexit? I suspect that we can actually. I think people are more emboldened about venting their prejudice to people.

“There are also people becoming more sensitive to shouts and comments as well. Quite rightly, they are reporting that to us.”

CI O’Neill cited one example where, at a recent market day in St Albans city centre, Herts Police were contacted by “a Romanian lady and a Bulgarian lady, who on the same day reported being shouted at - they thought it was because of their nationality. We must record that as a hate crime. People are more sensitive in those circumstances.”

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Cllr Iqbal Zia questioned whether Herts Police intended expanding the ethnic diversity of the force.

He also asked: “We know hate crime is on the rise, due to political landscape changes, and Brexit brought anxiety to many around the country, including St Albans. How is it dealt with by your force? What happens when a hate crime is reported?”

CI O’Neill said it was a “real challenge to get proper representation of all our communities within the police force” but it was a priority for police bosses to “increase visible ethnic minority representation in the force, it is absolutely vital”.

He added: “I am the son of Irish immigrants, so it is important to me too. They settled here in St Albans in 1958 and met with quite a deal of hate crime – a lot of discrimination, so that is something close to my heart.”

CI O’Neill said that when it came to fighting hate crime in the community, it depended on the nature of the incident, such as people being shouted at, or being targeted because of their colour.

He assured councillors: “We take it very seriously. We will do our utmost to [help the victim], so they are able to move on. We will also try to identify who committed the crime.”

After the meeting, Cllr Simon Grover told the Herts Advertiser: “It’s troubling that some people are using the result of the referendum as an excuse to persecute and intimidate other people, who have a perfect right to be in this country. I’m glad to hear that the police are working hard to deal with all reports of hate crime in the district. We must make it clear that this kind of behaviour is completely unacceptable in our society.”