Page last updated at 09:43 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 10:43 UK

Homophobic crime rise in London

By Andy Dangerfield
BBC News, London

Hand holding
The Met says the increase in crimes reported is a "positive sign"

Homophobic crime in London has risen by nearly a fifth, according to the latest figures on incidents reported to the Metropolitan Police (Met).

Last summer, gangs of youths attacked people outside gay bars in east London on a number of occasions.

In one incident, a 21-year-old man was paralysed after he was stabbed repeatedly outside a bar in Hackney Road.

Meanwhile, the recent death of gay man Ian Baynham, 62, who died two weeks after being attacked in Trafalgar Square, has thrust homophobic crimes into the public eye.

According to the latest figures, 1,192 homophobic offences were reported in the year to September, up from 1,008 the previous year - a rise of 18.3%.

'Positive sign'

The Met says the increase in reported crimes is a "positive sign" that police are "moving in the right direction".

It says homophobic offences are under-reported and the rise shows more is being done to encourage people to report incidents.

It's becoming more violent. People are being targeted and brutally beaten up
Dr Stephanie Eaton, Tower Hamlets councillor

But gay rights group Stonewall says there is no evidence that the increased reports of homophobic attacks are because of increased confidence.

A study by Stonewall, conducted last year, showed one in five lesbians and gay men surveyed in London had experienced a homophobic hate incident in the previous three years.

But it found that three quarters of those experiencing such an incident did not report it to the police. In fact, seven in 10 people did not tell anyone else about it.

"Over a third of respondents in our research didn't report incidents to the police because they didn't believe the police could or would do anything about them," says a Stonewall spokesman.

So the number of people experiencing homophobic crime could well be far higher than crime figures show.

'Brutally beaten'

Meanwhile, in Tower Hamlets, east London, where reported incidents have increased by more than 20% in the past year, many have noticed a growing problem on the streets.

Newham: +190%
Harrow: +137%
Waltham Forest: +107%
Bexley: +85%
Barking and Dagenham: +70%
Kensington and Chelsea: +61%
Shows London boroughs with highest rises. Source: Metropolitan Police

"I don't know why it's happening but homophobic crime is definitely increasing," says Kate, manager of gay pub George and Dragon in Hackney Road.

"We've had several incidents outside the pub. A group of kids with bottles and sticks have threatened and attacked customers a number of times," she says.

"There is a real increase and it's worrying," says Tower Hamlets councilor Dr Stephanie Eaton.

"It's becoming more violent. People are being targeted and brutally beaten up."

The Met says it is working in partnership with the victims and gay organisations to ensure they "provide an effective service as well as pursuing perpetrators".

But some people think that the police could do more.

Last month, Dr Eaton chaired a community meeting at Tower Hamlets gay pub The Joiners Arms.

"People were saying the police were not willing to listen when people reported attacks," she says.

The Joiners Arms has since set up reporting boxes where drinkers can anonymously report homophobic attacks.

And the George and Dragon has a website where people can anonymously report homophobic crime.

'Reduce fear'

But the pub's manager thinks more needs to be done.

Ian Baynham
Ian Baynham, 62, was attacked in Trafalgar Square

"We need more security cameras, drinking banned outside [in the street] and patrolling of the area," she says.

Stonewall is campaigning for the Met to be better trained to deal with the issue.

"Forces must train all police to identify and record hate crimes," says a Stonewall spokesman.

Dr Eaton does not think there are any quick solutions.

"We need to make it clear to kids in school that homophobic hate crime is not acceptable and make it possible for different types of community to come together and reduce fear."

"It's a long term strategy but there isn't another way to do it," she adds.

A candle-lit vigil is being held for the victim of London's most recent high-profile homophobic attack, Ian Baynham.

Organiser Mark Healey, who also arranged a vigil following the Soho nail bomb attack in 1999, explained why the vigil was important.

"We need to unite against all forms of hate-crime, stand together and say out loud that this is no longer acceptable in our society any more," he said.

"I think it's important that his death is not in vain and that it provokes us all to do what we can to try to prevent this happening again."

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