Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680 - 699)



  Q680  Mr Campbell: My next question is for the Policing Board. This goes back to the issue the Chairman raised, the issue of perceived animosity within the Police Service toward ethnic minorities. Is the Policing Board doing anything to liaise with ethnic minority representative groups to establish (a) if there is any belief or perception of racially motivated activities within certain members of the police and (b) what the Board can do to help the police eradicate that perception amongst those who may have it?

  Mr Wilson: The Board has a legislative requirement to assess public satisfaction with the police. It comes from the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and this current research which we are carrying out is in line with that. The formal research that we are commissioning is the way in which we are going into these areas to see what the issues are about under-reporting but also to assess the level of public satisfaction with the police in line with our legislative requirements. We not only ask the public whether or not race hate crime is high on their agenda but also about priorities and it is currently not high up on their agenda. Things like domestic burglary, under-age drinking, vandalism, things like that, are much higher up the public's agenda. The current two research projects that we are in the process of tendering in line with our legislative requirements are our way of formally engaging with these groups and trying to improve the situation by bringing recommendations to the Chief Constable, where recommendations need to be brought to the Chief Constable, for action and we will follow that up.

  Q681  Mr Campbell: Just to be clear, it appears anyway to me that there are a large number of areas in Northern Ireland where this issue is not a paramount issue, but there are a small number of areas where it is a very serious problem. Where it is a very serious problem, do you think under the over-arching outlook that you have outlined that you will be able to delve into that to give some satisfaction to a small number of people who do have a very particular perception?

  Mr Wilson: Again, within the Board's legislative role I think we do. The Board and the PSNI have been very proactive. We have had policing plan targets now for two years; we have now stepped up our policing plan targets next year to include detections for hate crime, not only to monitor the incidents. We are ahead of the game. We have been proactive whenever there is public concern on hate and race crimes, and two or three years ago it was not at the level it is now, so we do see it as a priority. The policing plan is where we set our strategic objectives for the police service, so we do listen to the public. We get representations from groups; they ask us to put things in the policing plan, and race and hate crime are a few of the issues that we have put in the policing plan, even though the numbers of incidents in the public perception may not necessarily have been in a placing plan normally. So yes, we do listen.

  Inspector Dempsey: As well as those formal mechanisms there are more informal mechanisms as well. Board members' in their role on a day-to-day business and their daily jobs speak to groups to try and get a feeling themselves for how public opinion is veering, and attitudes towards PSNI around hate crime. Those issues are raised at formal monthly board meetings and the Chief Constable has been questioned on a number of cases in terms of trying to meet requirements set out clearly in the annual plan.

  Q682  Chairman: Very few perpetrators of hate crimes are ever prosecuted. I think your figures say 7 out of 226 incidents. That seems a very low figure.

  Assistant Chief Constable Gillespie: In fact, Mr Chairman, I think it has been 18 people who have been charged or summoned --

  Q683  Chairman: I am talking about your 2002-3 statistics, which is the last full year we have had.

  Inspector Dempsey: Last year not every incident reported to police can be a prosecution because legislation has not been breached, and we have had some difficulty in accurately saying how many prosecutions there have or have not been previously. Last year, I can tell you with certainty in 2003-4 we carried out a very detailed piece of research both in respects of racial incidents and homophobic incidents, and what I can tell you is in respect of racial incidents there were 453 incidents reported to police and, of those, 267 were crimes. Of those 267, 45 incidents were cleared, a 16.9% clearance rate, and those 45 were made up of 18 charges or summonses, two adult cautions, three juvenile and formal warnings or start of cautions, two perpetrators were under age and could not be prosecuted, 18 people declined to prosecute and in two cases there was no prosecution directly. I think what we would like to highlight is there were 18 potential prosecutions where the victim would not support a prosecution, 16.9%. The average detection rate for crimes of that nature across the board was 27.4%, so significantly lower. In respect of homophobic incidents I can tell you 71 were reported—

  Q684  Chairman: We will come back to that in a moment. We have not seen those statistics before, at least I have not, and there are very interesting but there are twice as many, nearly, incidents reported, and much better rate in terms of action being taken, 45 as opposed to 7, but still a very low proportion, is it not? If you have got 267 crimes and you are only making 45 prosecutions, if that was an aggravated assault or a robbery or rape you would not be feeling you had performed well, would you?

  Assistant Chief Constable Gillespie: Which is why in negotiations with the Policing Board we intend to have a target in next year's policing plan to improve the detection rate for hate crime, in particular racial and homophobic offences.

  Q685  Chairman: I want to come back to that in a moment. I think you said six of them were under age and could not be prosecuted?

  Inspector Dempsey: Two under age.

  Q686  Chairman: What age is that?

  Inspector Dempsey: Ten. Below the age of criminal responsibility is ten.

  Q687  Chairman: So what do you do with these people, under ten, committing racist crimes?

  Inspector Dempsey: In the eyes of the law they are not responsible. Obviously clearly the police do not accept that --

  Q688  Chairman: I have sympathy for you but there is a problem if people under 10 are getting racist tendencies.

  Inspector Dempsey: The police will do what they can. They will obviously go and speak to their parents and try and do what they can. We cannot prosecute them so it does create some difficulties.

  Assistant Chief Constable Gillespie: You will be aware of research in Northern Ireland which showed racial tendencies, even in pre primary school children.

  Q689  Chairman: Mostly sectarian ones but yes, that, alas, is a problem. Come back to homophobic crimes.

  Inspector Dempsey: For the same period 71 incidents were reported to police. 45 were crimes, eight were cleared—that was a clearance rate of 17.8%—

  Q690  Chairman: By "cleared", do you mean prosecuted?

  Inspector Dempsey: No. In respect of the eight, three were charged or summoned, four the complainant declined to prosecute, and in one there was no prosecution directed, so again there were three prosecutions and four potential prosecutions where the victim declined to take forward a prosecution.

  Chairman: Well, I think I can say the Committee will look forward to seeing your targets and wish you well in trying to achieve them.

  Q691  Mr Pound: On that, I have some difficulty in working out the categories within the numbers. We have heard a lot about the case of Baroness Titty von Tramp, who is Robert McCready I think, who is a 6'6" transvestite whose case has been a lot in the papers as one of the visible members of the gay community who was putting his make-up on in a men's toilet and was jostled. Would that appear as a crime? The East Belfast MLA for the Alliance Party said it was a homophobic crime, and I am not sure what Mr McCready or Baroness von Tramp has said.

  Inspector Dempsey: That would be an assault.

  Q692  Mr Pound: So word "jostled" in that context—

  Inspector Dempsey: If there is any physical contact it is an assault.

  Q693  Mr Pound: So within those categories you are talking about the majority of them cross-refer to specific crimes regardless of the sexuality of the victim?

  Inspector Dempsey: That would have been a case of homophobic, the 45 crimes out of the 71. The ones that were not crimes where there was no legislation breached, it could have been a remark made in the street but we will record those.

  Q694  Mr Pound: I think somebody said to Baroness Von Tramp that she should be in a circus. Now to be honest if I found a 6'6" transsexual putting their make-up on in the gents I might have said something similar, but would that necessarily be considered homophobic?

  Inspector Dempsey: It would be, yes.

  Q695  Mr Pound: I shall be careful in the future!

  Inspector Dempsey: If I could add to the statistics, one of the things that greatly concerns police is the lack of community support for prosecutions. There are very many incidents we know of where people are aware of who is carrying out these incidents, particularly in south Belfast where they are very close-knit communities and they know who are carrying out these incidents and they are not coming forward with information to police, so our efforts to prosecute people are getting frustrated and we have certainly been appealing in respect of both interviews and in respect of literature posted through doors to encourage people to come forward and support the police to prosecute.

  Mr Paisley: If I could comment, on Cookstown district command unit since April five racially motivated attack incidents have been reported to the district command unit. It has resulted in three prosecutions, one of which has been drawn by the complainant, so that is quite a good ratio being brought before the courts. More than half.

  Q696  Reverend Smyth: There have been these incidents. In how many of them did the police recommend prosecution, and how many were declined by the DPP and prosecuted?

  Inspector Dempsey: I am not sure in respect of exactly what you are asking, but what I would say is that the police recommended that 18 people were charged or summoned to court; 78 people declined to prosecute. Obviously if the police do not have a complaint it is difficult in most circumstances to take forward a prosecution, and there were a number of cases dealt with by way of adult caution or restorative caution.

  Q697  Reverend Smyth: I was raising it because there have been occasions when the DPP have not prosecuted on the grounds they did not think it had been a successful prosecution, and I wanted us to try to get that out.

  Assistant Chief Constable Gillespie: The director will apply an objective test to all prosecutions, not just those involving hate crime, and in the case of racial incidents there were two cases where no prosecution was directed. In the case of the homophobic incidents there was a case where no prosecution was directed, but the same objective test would be applied across the board.

  Q698  Mr Tynan: Obviously you want to all do all you possibly can to assist to have the legislation in place where you could make a real dent as regards the prosecution figures. Could you tell me how you see the operation and in what way you think the new Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) 2004 Order will impact and assist in eradicating or prosecuting hate crime in Northern Ireland?

  Assistant Chief Constable Gillespie: It is too early to assess the impact at the moment but I can say that I think the fact that the legislation is there sends out a very clear message that crime is unacceptable but crime that is motivated by prejudice is particularly unacceptable, and I think it has been a success story in terms of including the wide range of hate crime within that legislation that crimes against people with disabilities is also recognised as entirely unacceptable. It is too early yet to assess the impact of that legislation but I would be optimistic that it will have a positive impact in terms of the enhanced sentencing powers of the courts when the crime is proven to be motivated by prejudice.

  Q699  Mr Tynan: Some of the questions asked of us is why should the minority groups in Northern Ireland feel there would be better results in this legislation when the existing laws seem to be applied in a feeble way. What would your reaction be to that comment?

  Assistant Chief Constable Gillespie: Again, I would go back to what Robin has said about community support. What I would say in terms of our general crime rate in Northern Ireland is that crime generally is falling in Northern Ireland, and there is no doubt about that. In burglaries and vehicle crime in particular there has been a substantial fall in the amount of crime. What we have to improve on is our detection rates across the board, not just with regard to hate crime but violent crime and property crime, so what I would say is that if there is a suggestion that the legislation as it exists is being applied feebly I would say look at our figures, because undoubtedly there has been a success rate in terms of addressing volume crime and we need to get getter at making more detections in the hate crime area in particular.

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