Northumbria Police are having to deal with more racist hate crimes following a rise in offences around the EU referendum, figures show.
The latest Home Office data shows an increase in reports to the police where race was the motivating factor, during the year of the Brexit vote.
In the 2016-17 financial year, 1,609 incidents were recorded by Northumbria Police, where someone was abused or attacked due to their race. The referendum was in June 2016.
That is a 54% increase on the previous year, when 1,043 cases were recorded.
A Home Office report states that, while the police have improved their recording methods, “part of the increase is due to a genuine increase in hate crime, particularly around the time of the EU Referendum”.
Rose Simkins, chief executive of Stop Hate UK, said it was “now an indisputable fact” that racist incidents have risen since the Brexit vote.
She explained: “Our own figures, from the period 2016-17, also support this trend where, after several years of disability being the biggest motivating factor, there was a clear shift towards race being the biggest factor.
“Also, after the referendum, many more people reported suffering hate for the first time, as deep-rooted prejudices surfaced and manifested themselves as abuse and threats to innocent members of the public.”
The figures also show a rise in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crime, where religion was a motivating factor.
Northumbria Police recorded 161 of these cases in 2016-17, 82 more than the previous year.
Ms Simkins commented that while reporting and recording of hate crime has improved, she still believes there is a large disparity between the actual number of incidents and the number reported to the police.
She added: “It is vital that the police and authorities make use of the advice, support and training available from specialist third party organisations, such as Stop Hate UK and that, collectively, we adopt a collaborative approach to tackling hate crime.
“We still need many more resources to help close the disparity between the number of incidents happening to those reported, and to increase public confidence that an incident, or perceived incident, is worth reporting in the first place.”
The total number of hate crime cases in Northumbria increased by 892 in 2016-17, with racist offences making up the majority of those.
Incidents where disability is the motivating factor have also risen, from 70 in 2015-16 to 218 in the latest figures.
Assistant Chief Constable Ged Noble reiterated the Force’s commitment to tackling hate crime.
He said: “It is unacceptable to abuse someone because of their race, age, sexual orientation, religion, disability or any other protected characteristic and we will stand together to stop this sort of prejudice.
“Hate crime is something which has been under-reported for a long time, but we have worked extremely hard to give victims the confidence to come forward.
“Our officers have an excellent understanding about what constitutes a hate crime and the additional support that can be provided to victims of this type of crime.
“It is vitally important that we ensure victims receive the support they need and ultimately feel safe.”
Phil Talbot, from disability charity Scope, said: “It’s alarming that thousands of disabled people are being targeted in this way because of their impairment or condition.
We encourage everyone to report these despicable crimes to the authorities, so those responsible can be caught and prosecuted.”