Latest hate crime figures are just ‘tip of the iceberg’

ATTACKED: Elavi Dowie

ATTACKED: Elavi Dowie

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The victim of a vicious racist attack in Blackpool that left him fearing for his life has spoken about the lasting impact hate crime can have.

Street musician Elavi Dowiewas attacked while working on Blackpool mPromenade last month.

I felt at the time I was fighting for my life – I still have nightmares about it.

His story came to light after an investigation revealed a 30 per cent rise in hate crimes in the county this year.

Hundreds are being committed across the Fylde coast – 1.064 across Lancashire in total

Campaigners and police have welcomed a surge in cases being reported as more victims have the confidence to come forward.

Experts say the latest hate crime figures are only the tip of the iceberg but praised the county’s pioneering work to tackle under-reporting.

More than 1,000 hate crimes – where victims were targeted for their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability – were recorded, a 36 per cent rise in just 12 months.

One victim today told how he thought he was going to die at the hands of racist thugs.

Street musician Elavi Dowie was attacked while he was working on Blackpool Promenade last month.

The former student, who moved to Blackpool for the summer season, said: “They started abusing me, telling me I was dressed like a tramp, and then the racial abuse started.”

He said the group swore at him and used racial slurs before turning violent.

“They just went crazy,” he added. “I was hit with my speaker, beaten around the head and my shirt was ripped off.

“I felt at the time I was fighting for my life – I still have nightmares about it.”

Now he works with several hate crime charities, including the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, set up in honour of the Lancashire teen who was murdered because of the way she dressed, to raise awareness.

In 2014, there were 294 racially motivated incidents alone on the Fylde coast, of which 215 were in Blackpool, a nine per cent increase on the previous year.

Of those incidents, 121 were classed as crimes – 83 of them in Blackpool.

Chief Insp Ian Mills, force lead for hate crime at Lancashire Police, said: “How many times might a person have been a victim of hate crime because they were different since they were born?

“The research around that says it be hundreds and hundreds of times.

“It can be a wide range of things from criminal assault through to harassment.”

Mr Dowie said he had experienced racist abuse many times before but said the physical attack was a “one-off”.

He agrees that under-reporting of hate crime is a serious problem.

He added: “People don’t report it because they don’t see what’s happened to them as a crime.

“They think they need that violent element for it to be a crime. But there is no low level crime.”

Campaigners say a lack of confidence in the police to investigate can also mean many victims stay silent.

But Stephen Brookes, coordinator for the Disability Hate Crime Network and ambassador for Disability Rights UK, said Lancashire is leading the way in helping to break down those barriers.

Third-party reporting centres have been set up across the county to offer independent support.

Home Office guidance highlights the work around disability hate crime in Blackpool as a shining example of how it can increase the number of incidents being reported.

Mr Brookes, who lives in Blackpool, said: “What we do in Lancashire is heavily regarded nationally as best practice.

“We get disabled people who are volunteers, who are trained in the process of taking reports.

“It gives them confidence, that somebody disabled is listening to somebody disabled.”

Since he started working to support victims of disability hate crime, he said, the number of reports nationally has soared from under 100 a year to around 1,000.

As well as supporting victims, police are working to tackle the causes of hate crime, in part by helping to educate offenders.