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Probe in ‘transphobic’ tweets shows ‘skewed priorities’ - and detracts from real hate crime, says Ipswich MP

PUBLISHED: 08:54 28 February 2020

Ipswich Conservative MP Tom Hunt wants more money for the police.  Picture: OLIVER SULLIVAN

Ipswich Conservative MP Tom Hunt wants more money for the police. Picture: OLIVER SULLIVAN

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Crime and anti-social behaviour came through loud and clear as the most important issues in Ipswich, throughout the general election campaign.

The significance of this was tragically underlined by the brutal attack on Richard Day, in St Matthew's Street on Saturday night. Richard died as result of his injuries and my thoughts are with his family at this most distressing time.

On Monday, I raised the attack in the House of Commons, as I teamed up with other Suffolk MPs to intervene on police funding for our county. The Government's £1.1 billion boost for police funding nationwide is welcome; but Suffolk needs a fairer share of the resources.

If Suffolk received the national average funding our policing budget would be increased by nearly £30 million.

I was clear to the Government that Suffolk shouldn't be labelled as a sleepy, rural county. Our local police officers deal with the most serious crimes, as we have seen all too recently. The police funding formula must be reviewed as soon as possible to reflect that.

I also made the case that increased police funding will only get us halfway to winning the public's trust on law and order. At a time when the police are stretched, it's just as important that the money we give them is spent first and foremost on protecting the law-abiding public and not on turning the police into a political weapon.

I referred to the case of Harry Miller which has been widely reported in the media recently. Yesterday morning, I met with Mr Miller to go further into the detail. Mr Miller had a 'community cohesion officer' turn up to his place of work, after he had tweeted about transgenderism online, even though he hadn't committed a crime. He said the experience had had a "substantial chilling effect" on his right to free speech.

The implications for freedom of speech are certainly worrying and Mr Miller's case may well be just the tip of the iceberg. The police recorded nearly 120,000 of these non-crime incidents between 2014 and 2019.

These skewed priorities set for the police stem, in part, from guidelines set by the College of Policing; a quasi-governmental body which has been sub-contracted by the Home Office to set the standards for policing. Under the College's guidance, police are obliged to report non-crime hate incidents "irrespective of whether there is any evidence to identify the hate element".

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This obligation on the police has created a framework which encourages certain people to waste police time, by accusing their political opponents of hate crime - even when the accusations are clearly ludicrous.

I encountered the same thing after my piece in this paper in which I called for an honest conversation about crime in our town and said that "It is impossible to start thinking about remedies to these issues without also being ready to confront the possibility that a disproportionate number of crimes are committed by individuals from certain communities."

I understand that not everyone will agree with what I said, and I was prepared to debate the issue, as should be the case in a healthy democracy. Unfortunately, local Labour activists instead chose to encourage people to report me for a hate crime.

While this wastes valuable police time and attempts to stifle important political debate, their actions also undermine the significance of real cases by distracting attention from genuine instances of hate crime. It's for these reasons that I've tabled a Parliamentary question to the Home Secretary, asking if she will work to remove the requirement in the guidelines that the police must record these non-crimes.

The persistent attempts by some to conflate hate crime with views they disagree with, was also typified recently in a training slideshow being used by Ipswich Borough Council.

The slideshow on "Understanding Ipswich's Diverse Communities", included a slide on hate crime. It featured a screen grab of my article on crime and anti-social behaviour.

This is perplexing given that my article neither mentioned hate crime nor came anywhere near constituting one. I can only assume that the supposedly politically neutral IBC officers who wrote the slide, were inferring that what I said was somehow equal to a hate crime in their view.

However, this was not the only reason the slide was highly misleading. The text on the slide leads the reader to believe the that the figures on the slide refer to actual hate crimes. Study it closer though and it becomes clear that once again, non-evidenced and non-proven reports are also lumped in.

Bad data also means bad policy, which further undermines our ability to tackle real hate crime.

It's unclear whether certain councillors are leaning on council officers to push these messages or whether council officers are falling short when it comes to political neutrality. The matter is being investigated.

What is clear, is that all public servants should be allowed to leave political agendas at the door and work wholeheartedly in the interests of all those they serve. No amount of money can solve a problem when the priorities aren't right. I will continue to push this matter in Parliament where these issues aren't aired often enough.


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