REPORTS of hate crime in the Thames Valley have dramatically increased in the past year, according to ‘devastating’ new data.

Racist, homophobic and disability-related offences rose by between 46 and 77 per cent, with transphobic crime also rocketing between April 2018 and March 2019.

Campaigners have blamed the impact of Brexit and austerity for the regional increase – and warned that many incidents still go unreported.

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However, experts have cautioned that the statistics – published by South Oxfordshire District Council – are partly fuelled by an increasing number of people coming forward and changes to the way incidents are recorded.

The data suggests that homophobic crimes rose 77 per cent – from 202 to 358 – in the 12 month period. Both racist and ableist (anti-disability) crime rose by 46 per cent, from 1,917 to 2,800 and 227 to 331 respectively.

Oxford city councillor Marie Tidball, a national disability rights activist, said the increase was part of a national problem, adding: “The figures show a devastating increase in disability hate crime.

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“The government can no longer shy away from the impact of its austerity policies and peddling of the 'scrounger' rhetoric on perceptions of disabled people.”

The Labour councillor urged the Home Secretary to ‘strengthen measures to prevent bullying, hate speech and hate crime against people with disabilities’ and slammed the government's ‘pernicious policies’ for embedding ‘negative attitudes.’

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However, reported hate related incidents described as ‘non-crime’ by police have dropped dramatically in all three categories, suggesting such reports are now more likely to be treated as criminal than a year ago.

Paul Scarrott, a trustee of Oxford disability charity My Life My Choice, said he believed the level of hate crime had remained roughly stable.

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He explained: “Hate crime continues to be a part of the lives of people with learning disabilities. Most incidents go unreported and those that are (often) don’t result in a criminal conviction.

“My wife, who is a wheelchair user, was recently called a ‘spa**ic who should stop being so lazy... and walk like everybody else’.

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“We told police but they said that they couldn’t do anything because it was his word against ours. I often get laughed at and I have been physically assaulted.”

Thames Valley Police and the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner’s office have suggested the increased reporting is positive because it shows people are becoming increasingly aware of the issue.

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Force spokeswoman Caity Rosetti explained: “We are aware that hate crime is under reported (and) we positively encourage people to report it.

“The fact we are seeing increases in the number of people contacting us is therefore a good sign that victims have confidence to report.

"It also assists us… to investigate those committing these offences and spread the message that these acts are not acceptable.”

Thames Valley’s deputy PCC Matthew Barber – who is also a Conservative district councillor for Steventon and the Hanneys – added: “It is worth noting that the way the police are recording the incidents has changed.

“Whether an incident is a crime or a non-crime incident is often subjective and many incidents are reported by third parties who may not have been involved themselves.

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“In the last year, the force have deliberately taken a much more cautious approach to this distinction and as a result are recording more incidents as crime incidents.”

Mr Barber noted that the total number of racist incidents (crime and non-crime) went down by one last year and said the picture 'is actually remarkably stable'.

However Oxford city councillor Shaista Aziz said the figures were ‘very disturbing’ because hate crime remained under-reported.

During the 2018/19 year, nearly 900 more racist crimes were reported in the Thames Valley than the year before, equating to an average of more than seven in the region each day.

Ms Aziz, who is also a national equalities campaigner working on hate crime, continued: “Since the Brexit vote, police forces across the country continue to record an increase in hate crime. Racism, homophobia and bigotry don’t occur in a vacuum.”

Highlighting racist graffiti in Oxford, she added: “There is a correlation between the toxic, divisive environment created by politicians and the normalising of bigotry in our discourse.

“I have met and spoken to Muslim women who have told me they feel intimidated to go about their daily lives due to the racism they’ve faced in Oxford.”

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Responding to statistics on homophobic crimes – which showed a significantly higher increase than ableist or racist incidents – Oxford Pride director Mazz Image said: “The police offer a lot of really positive support for the LGBTQ community in Oxfordshire, they want to help us and the best way we can help is by providing them with information.

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“If hate crime gets reported it gives police more information to target areas and help us provide a safer environment for everyone.”

Transphobic incidents rose by 153 per cent – but there were only 76 incidents in the 12-month period. Religious crime incidents remained roughly stable.