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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 00:48 GMT 01:48 UK
Racist crime action 'underfunded'
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

Recent graffiti in north London
Action to prevent racist violence and crime is being underfunded and undervalued, according to a new report.

Researchers claim that the government takes race crime seriously but not enough is done to prevent it happening. The Runnymede Trust, a think tank, spent two years studying how British society tries to prevent racism and prejudice.

It warns that debates over integration are ignoring serious and ingrained problems over hate crimes.

Researchers from Runnymede, a body that specialises in studying equality, looked at measures designed to prevent racist crimes taking place.

While public bodies were now working much more closely in targeting racist crimes after they had happened, largely due to the fall-out from the Stephen Lawrence murder, they were still failing to prevent them happening in the first place, the team found.

There needs to be intervention before racist violence happens... if we really want to eliminate racism, we need to work in that soft area, where it hasn't happened yet
A racism mediator, interviewed in the report

Those who were trying to work directly with perpetrators of racism, such as young people convicted of race-related offences, said they found it difficult to gain support for their work, even though it was arguably doing the most to directly challenge prejudices.

Sarah Isal, author of the report, said: "While the government has come to terms since the Lawrence Inquiry that there needs to be better support for victims and more work in bringing to justice perpetrators of racist crimes, there has not been enough of a commitment to prevention."

"All of the good programmes that we have highlighted in our report are good projects, but they need more support and leadership from central government."

Ms Isal said that innovative schemes which had a track record in challenging the underlying prejudices behind racist crimes, particularly arts or theatre-based schemes linked to schools, needed more support.

These subtle but complex projects often did more to generate the debate needed among young people than they were given credit for, she argued.

She added that schemes that attempted direct mediation between victims and perpetrators of racist behaviour were also successful, but often not taken seriously enough.

Lawrence criticisms

Between 2003-04 there were 4,179 prosecutions for racially-aggravated crimes, of which a quarter were assaults or harassment charges. The Crown Prosecution Service recorded a 13% increase in such crimes over the previous year, although it is difficult to say whether this means an increase in the actual number of crimes, or an increase in the numbers of people reporting a crime.

Last week, Doreen Lawrence, speaking to the Observer newspaper, attacked the Home Office's recent work on racism, saying that people within black communities felt that ministers had lost interest in the work called for by the inquiry into her son's killing.
Prejudices: Work targeting racist attitudes undervalued, says report

The Observer reported that a key committee overseeing the recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry had been disbanded.

The Home Office has declined to confirm this, saying only that it met last month, but its conversations were private.

Responding to the report, Home Office minister Paul Goggins said: "The government deplores all hate crime and considers these kinds of crimes not just an attack on the individual but on the whole of society.

"Our commitment to race equality is as strong as ever and there will be no let-up in our driving forward the improvements still needed.

"Over the next five years the police will improve the way they handle such incidents and promote the reporting of incidents.

"Government, together with the Stephen Lawrence Steering Group, will work to ensure that everyone in Britain has access to an effective racist incident helpline."




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