Reports of crimes against LGBT people soar. Are the police taking it seriously enough?
In the United Kingdom, homosexual acts were in some senses decriminalised in 1967 with the Sexual Offences Act of that year.
Nevertheless, even in the 1980s, thousands of gay men were being continually charged and prosecuted for offences relating to consensual gay behaviour. One such offence, gross indecency, was sadly exclusively applied to gay men and showed a level of police discrimination greater than in any other member state of the European Community (EC) at that time. Police poured resources into maintaining a network of 'pretty police', armed with infrared cameras and outdated Victorian-era laws, to control gay behaviour. Serious crimes including violence against gay men were left unsolved and unpunished.
Only after pressure from activist groups and the public did the Police ask for negotiations, which then ensured that prosecutions under gross indecency fell and proposals for a non-homophobic policing policy were implemented.
The UK today seems in many respects to be more accepting and encouraging of LGBT people. It seems shocking then that reports of homophobic hate crimes have soared since 2015. A recent BBC article sheds light on the severity of the issue: in 2014-15, there were 5,807 reports of homophobic hate crimes, while in 2018-19 there have been 13,530.
Sadly, the police do not seem to be doing enough to counter this abuse. Even though the number of reports of homophobic abuse has increased, the level of prosecutions has fallen. During the same period, prosecutions fell from 20% of all reports to 8%.
The Metropolitan Police Service has commented that 'these non-violent offences present less evidential opportunities', which is echoed by the National Police Chiefs' Council which states that 'with many cases, there are often no witnesses to these crimes and scarce evidence - this may lead to police being unable to identify a suspect'.
Why, then, were a higher proportion of these crimes prosecuted when there were fewer reported? Surely, one would think there is a correlation between the number of reports of homophobic hate crimes and the amount of opportunities to identify a suspect, and therefore that the rate of prosecution for this type of offence would at least remain constant.
The same article reports that the Minister for Countering Extremism, Baroness Williams, urges people to come forward with reports. She says partners across the criminal justice system and the government are working to ensure perpetrators are punished. Her words run contrary to the police statements which seem to discourage further reports. After all, why bother reporting a crime to the police if they have voiced a lack of confidence about finding or investigating perpetrators of these offences?
It seems, then, that although practice has changed since the 1980s, there are still concerns to be raised about police forces' attitude towards investigating crimes committed against people with minority sexual orientations and gender identities. One only has to look at the case of serial killer Stephen Port, who murdered 4 young gay men between 2014 and 2015, to feel that the police are not taking crimes committed against such groups seriously enough. The IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) inquiry into the Metropolitan Police Service identified systemic failings related to these investigations, and found that the performance of nine officers fell below the standard required. These tragic deaths are due to be subject to fresh inquests, which it is understood will consider the adequacy of police investigation.
If you feel the Police have failed to investigate a homophobic hate crime against you, contact our Civil Liberties and Actions Against the Police department today on 0207 632 4300, who may be able to help you explore the legal remedies available to you.