Hate crime horror stories shared as West Sussex County Council agrees to prioritise funding to fight ‘scourge on our society’

Horror stories of homophobic violence and racist abuse were shared as West Sussex councillors got together to condemn hate crime.

A notice of motion was tabled at a meeting of the full council aimed at helping people to report such crimes, scrutinise the situation, and to ensure the county’s Hate Incident Support Service remained a priority for funding.

Chris Oxlade (Lab, Bewbush & Ifield) said: “One of the main reasons I’m moving this motion, and the reason it’s close to my heart, was a good friend of mine has been coming to terms with his own sexuality.

“I got a very distressed message very late at night from him about six months ago saying he’d just been beaten up. He sent me a picture of his face. It was massively battered and bruised.

“I immediately called him straight back and the only words he could utter through tears and anger was ‘they hit me because I’m gay’.”

Mr Oxlade shared figures with the meeting that showed more than 1,000 hate crimes against people because of their race, sexuality, disability, gender identity or faith had been reported in West Sussex between April 2018 and April 2019.

With many people – such as his friend – too afraid to report the abuse, he guessed the actual figure was higher.

Duncan Crow, cabinet member for fire & rescue and communities, described hate crime as ‘a scourge on our society’ which ‘should not be tolerated in any way’.

He shared details of an horrific email which had been sent to a friend, containing anti-Muslim sentiments.

Mr Crow praised the way police had reacted to the incident.

He told the meeting the council funded the Hate Incident Support Service to the tune of £25,000 per year, with the Police & Crime Commissioner adding £35,000 per year. He assured members there were no plans to cut that funding.

Mr Oxlade told the meeting he had been ‘fairly lucky’, adding: “I’m an openly gay councillor and in this role I’ve never received some of the disgusting and offensive verbal, physical and written attacks some of my friends have.”

Things were different when he ran for Parliament in 2010 and 2015, suffering ‘hateful and disparaging’ social media remarks, with one abuser even ringing him at home.

He added: “In politics it’s said that comes with the territory but that doesn’t make it right.”

There was, of course, full support from all parties for the notice of motion.

David Simmons (Con, Southwick) described hate crime as ‘abhorrent’ and ‘debilitating’ and stressed the need for police and the council to provide the right support to the victims.

Dr James Walsh appealed to national leaders not to use divisive, hateful language – such as comments made by Boris Johnson before he became Prime Minister – saying it ‘legitimised’ others using such language.

He added: “We all have a responsibility in the area. It’s not something that other people must do, it’s something we must all own and stand up for.”

The motion was agreed unanimously.

As well as making funding a priority and producing regular reports of the responses to hate crime, the council will look into ways to use advertising – on roundabouts and public transport – to encourage people to report such crimes.

The Hate Incident Support Service can be reached via www.westsussex.gov.uk/campaigns/hate-crime-awareness/

Karen Dunn , Local Democracy Reporting Service