SNP accused of 'soft touch justice system' as racially aggravated crimes rise year-on-year

The number of racially aggravated crimes in Scotland have dropped by more than a quarter since 2010, but recent figures show a “worrying” growth in offences last year, it can be revealed.

Police have been called to more racially aggravated crimes in Scotland in 2019/20 compared to the year before.

New analysis, undertaken by the JPIMedia Data Unit, show the overall number of charges issued by the Crown Office has dropped from more than 4,100 in 2010/11 to slightly more than 3,000 last year.

In England and Wales, the figures have gone in the opposite direction with 76,000 racist offences committed in 2019/20, a rise of 112 per cent compared to 2010/11.

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In Scotland, charges relating to a racially aggravated crime during 2019/20 are up by 4 per cent on 2018/19’s figures.

The Scottish Conservatives blamed the upwards growth in the year-on-year figures in Scotland on a “soft touch” approach from the Scottish Government and said the coming Hate Crime Bill would lead to people losing faith in the system.

The party’s justice spokesperson Liam Kerr said it was “worrying” to see the increase and called on offenders to be treated “severely".

He said: “Perhaps if the SNP didn’t preside over such a soft-touch justice system, criminals would be more reluctant to embark on such behaviour.

“Rather than focus on aggravators as the core method of tackling hate crime, the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill introduces new stirring up offences, which have shifted focus onto the issue of free speech.

“That has created widespread opposition among the public, who will be worried that crucial issues such as racially aggravated offences won’t be properly dealt with as a result.”

Some areas recorded high levels of growth such as Peterhead, which saw crimes rocket by 241 per cent.

Scotland’s largest cities all saw year-on-year rises in charges, with Glasgow the only big city to see a drop.

Independent race equality think-tank the Runnymede Trust said there was an “overwhelming existence of systemic racism present in British society”, underplayed in the figures due to under-reporting of crimes.

Trust research analyst Adam Almeida said: “What is occurring in Britain today mirrors what is happening globally, where incidences of racist crime correlate with the rise of the far-right, nationalism and white supremacy.

“We need to work to address the systemic root causes of racism that precipitates racist abuse at the individual level.”

A spokesperson for justice secretary Humza Yousaf hit back at the Tories’ criticism, saying the Scottish Government planned to ensure there was not a “culture of acceptance” and the rise in figures was down to victims having more confidence to come forward.

They said: “The Tories are all over the place on this issue. One minute they are accusing us of having a soft touch justice system, and the next they are criticising us for creating tough new offences which are specifically designed to crack down on unacceptable behaviour and keep people safe.

"Maybe they should spend less time engaging in knee-jerk political opposition and more time putting victims first – and making clear that we will not stand for prejudice or discrimination of any kind.

“Racism threatens community cohesion and it continues to have a damaging impact on our society. Hate crime has real life consequences and we know the deep harm it can cause.

“The Hate Crime Bill makes it clear that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated.”

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