The Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has announced that it has begun recording attacks on members of subcultures, such as punks, goths and emos, as hate crimes. Since 2007, the GMP has been working with a charity – the Sophie Lancaster Foundation – following the murder of a twenty-year-old goth, who with her boyfriend was attacked by youths in a Bacup park on 24 August 2007 because of the way in which they were dressed. The GMP is the first police force in the UK to treat the offences in this way. Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, GMP’s lead on hate crime, is reported as saying:
“The launch of this new strand of recordable hate crime is a major breakthrough. We are able to officially recognise that people who wish to express their alternative subculture identity freely should not have to tolerate hate crime – something that many people have to endure on a daily basis. Sophie’s tragic death brought forward a need to recognise that there are many other victims of hate crime that should be protected by law. While we have worked with the foundation for some time, I am proud to say we are now the first force in the country to officially record alternative subculture as a sixth strand of hate crime motivation.”
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Crown Prosecution Service have a nationally agreed definition of Hate Crime, which is
“taken to mean any crime where the perpetrator’s hostility or prejudice against an identifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimised. This is a broad and inclusive definition. A victim does not have to be a member of the group. In fact, anyone could be a victim of a hate crime.”
The CPS and ACPO have agreed 5 monitored strands of hate crime: disability; race; religion or belief; sexual orientation; transgender identity, and indicate that it can take many forms including:
- physical attacks such as physical assault, damage to property, offensive graffiti and arson
- threat of attack including offensive letters, abusive or obscene telephone calls, groups hanging around to intimidate, and unfounded, malicious complaints
- verbal abuse, insults or harassment – taunting, offensive leaflets and posters, abusive gestures, dumping of rubbish outside homes or through letterboxes, and bullying at school or in the workplace.
The CPS states
“where there is sufficient evidence, sections 145 and 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provide that where an offence is motivated by hostility based on religion or perceived religion, ethnicity or perceived ethnicity (section 145), disability or perceived disability, or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation (section 146), the court must state this as an aggravating factor at the sentencing stage”.
However, there are no statutory provisions that relate to crimes based on hostility towards gender identity. In terms of crimes against older people, the CPS is “committed to taking into account age equality issues in all our prosecution policies. . . . . . Our policy on crimes against older people recognises that older people can be victims of crime in a number of circumstances and settings, including being targeted based on hostility towards age”.
This initiative clearly falls outwith the CPS/ACPO national agreement on hate crimes, and without a change in the law the GMP can do little more than record “subculture hate” as an element in a crime. Although last year, the Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone acknowledged that the five factors comprised an “incomplete list”, there are others who would resist its formal inclusion as a hate crime. Were other forces to follow the example of the GMP, a picture might be built of the extent of “subculture hate”, although any review of the legislation in this area would need to be based upon an holistic review of “hate crime”.