HOMOPHOBIA was behind one in seven hate crimes recorded in Avon and Somerset last year as the overall number of hate crimes recorded in the region rose. 

Home Office data shows Avon and Somerset Police recorded 457 homophobic and biphobic hate crimes in the year to March – 10 fewer than the year before.

It means someone's sexual orientation was a motivating factor in 14% of the 3,351 hate crimes recorded by the police force last year. 

Avon and Somerset Police recorded an increase in the overall number of hate crimes recorded in the last twelve months. 

Avon and Somerset's lead for hate crime has outlined the police's commitment to tackling all forms of hate crime and urged anyone who has experienced it to contact the police. 

Alongside the 457 homophobic and biphobic hate crimes reported in the region, there were 2,537 racially motivated incidents, 297 disability-related hate crimes and 135 offences linked to religion.

Transphobia was a factor in 96 hate crimes recorded last year.

Police can record more than one motivating factor behind an offence.

Superintendent Paul Wigginton, Avon and Somerset Police’s force lead for hate crime said: "We’re committed to tackling hate crime in all its forms and we want those individuals who are committing these crimes to know that their behaviour won’t be tolerated.

"When a hate crime is reported to us, we will fully investigate it and we will do all we can to find the people committing hate crimes.

"Victims should not suffer abuse based on any aspects of their life, whether it be sexual orientation, ethnic background, religious beliefs or anything else.

"Overall, we have recorded an increase in hate crimes in the last twelve months even though we know hate crime is at risk of under-reporting.

"It is reassuring more people are coming forwards, seeking help from the police and have built an intolerance for this type of behaviour.

"We work closely with external patterns to better understand the needs of the communities most at risk of being victims of hate crimes and to improve how we respond to these types of crimes.

"We know hate crime can be devastating to victims, which is why we urge anyone who has experienced it to come forwards and talk to us as soon as possible."

Charities call for action to safeguard LGBTQ+ community

Across England and Wales, hate crimes based on sexual orientation have almost doubled in the last five years. 

Galop, a charity that runs an LGBTQ+ hate crime helpline, said the pandemic has fuelled abuse.

The charity said some callers have told the helpline that their attackers believe the outbreak to be a punishment for LGBTQ+ lifestyles.

Leni Morris, the charity’s CEO, said: "Lockdowns brought with them an escalation of abuse from homophobic and transphobic neighbours, with some of our clients experiencing break-ins and yet having few places to flee due to the restrictions.

"Around 70% of same-sex couples avoid holding hands in public for fear of attack, but social distancing has made same-sex couples visible in public – and this has indeed led to attacks." 

Transphobic hate crimes have more than doubled in the last five years in England and Wales. 

They have risen from 1,195 in 2016-17 to 2,630 last year, while sexual orientation crimes increased from 8,569 to 17,135.

The Home Office said that the biggest drivers behind the rises were improvements in police recording and increased willingness from victims to come forward. 

It also said the Government "could not be complacent" and that a new hate crime strategy will be published this year.  

Charity Stonewall says the true scale of hate crimes against LGBTQ+ victims may be much higher due to many incidents going unreported.

Robbie de Santos, Stonewall's director of communications and external affairs, said the figures must be a wake-up call for addressing LGBTQ+ hate crimes.

He said: "From ensuring that LGBTQ+ hate crimes are properly recorded and prosecuted within the criminal justice system, to training police forces to understand LGBTQ+ hate crime and support victims and survivors, it’s vital that we all do more to tackle violence and hate directed at LGBTQ+ people."

Across the UK, there were 115,000 hate crimes recorded in the year to March - a 9% rise from 105,000 the year before.

The data excludes Greater Manchester Police, which did not provide data for 2019-20. 

Around three-quarters of hate crimes recorded last year were racially motivated.

The Government said it is committed to tackling hate crime and recent efforts include working to improve recording of crime, funding for anti-bullying interventions in schools, and producing resources to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ abuse.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable.

"The cowards who commit them should feel the full force of the law."

Reporting a hate crime