Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)

THURSDAY 27 JUNE 2002

MR PETER FAHY, MR DAVID TUCKER AND MR MARTIN BAINES

Baroness Massey of Darwen

  120. You said that you had an Association of Muslim Police Officers and that you have police officers who wish to follow their faith. My question ties in with question no.8 on the sheet and concerns where you get your insights and information from. Clearly, you have those sources. I should like to ask you how you get these focus groups. Who are they and who gives you information on the issues we are talking about?
  (Mr Fahy) We have had long-standing arrangements since the Scarman Report and had meetings with representatives of various communities, particularly with ethnic minority communities. Those meetings have certainly been strengthened and accelerated since September 11. We recognise that there are lots of different associations of groups within the Muslim faith. We have tried in our meetings to include the widest possible range of groups. We have recognised that you have to be careful about being London-centric because some groups are largely based in London. We are also careful about the use of the words "community leaders" and "representative". We have tried to include as many different groups as possible in those discussions, and that is happening externally and internally. We have had meetings with a range of staff associations: the Black Police Association; Muslim Police Association; Christian Police Association, and various staff associations. That has been very, very powerful, hearing it from the experience of sections of our own police officers and other members of those faiths. I am sure Martin can say what happens in an area of particularly high ethnic minority representation.
  (Mr Baines) In Bradford we have extensive dialogue and consultation with groups right across the city, both racial groups and religious groups, such as with Sikhs, Dilwara temples, Hindu cultural societies, the Jewish community in the city, and also Christian churches, which play a very active role in the communities within their district. It is also done internally as well through the Police Association and the Christian Police Association. We have no shortage of organisations and individuals that we can turn to in order to consult and talk about these issues.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

  121. Do you have any Muslim women involved?
  (Mr Tucker) Yes, the Metropolitan Police has recently introduced a policy whereby women Muslims can wear the Jilbab, instead of standard uniform. I would not say we are anywhere close to getting this right, but we are trying to become more solutions orientated rather than looking for reasons people cannot do things. We need to see how we can facilitate religious observance.

Earl of Mar and Kellie

  122. I come from Central Scotland and am therefore very aware that there is another dimension to this, which is the use of largely sectarian songs and other statements at mass sporting events, and in particular football. I believe that this does spill over into England, into the local area anyway. We have asked about inter-community relations; do you see this Bill as dealing with vast numbers of football supporters, and do you think that this will be any help in terms of sectarianism, largely a response to historical immigration from Ireland?
  (Mr Fahy) We are very aware of the Scottish situation and indeed the Northern Ireland situation. We are watching closely what happens with Mr Guthrie's Private Member's Bill in the Scottish Parliament in relation to sectarian issues. Overall, our view would be that the existing public order legislation would largely deal with those situations, in terms of abusive, insulting and threatening behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace. The existing legislation would largely deal with those situations and similar offences. Here, we are talking about actions that threaten relationships between communities and within communities. The action of football supporters and those sorts of people would largely be covered by existing public order legislation. I am not aware that Scottish forces have any difficulty in those situations.

Lord Avebury

  123. You have mentioned religiously aggravated offences in your introductory remarks. I suppose it is a bit too early to tell us much about that, but it would be interesting to know if you had any statistical data on numbers of religiously aggravated offences that have been brought to court, and what has been the outcome.
  (Mr Fahy) We are not aware of any offences that have been to court up to now. It is probably still too early. Indeed, we would have to say that the police force in general has had difficulty with this issue in terms of recording crimes which are motivated by religion. To my knowledge, the only force that does that is the Metropolitan Police, which has recently started to record religiously aggravated offences.
  (Mr Tucker) We started on 14 January this year to record offences which are apparently motivated by faith hatred. We have sub-divisions within the flagging system we use that recognise a certain number of faiths; and, as far as I am aware, we are the only force that does it.

Earl of Mar and Kellie

  124. Is this determined by the victim, or by the police officer involved, or by the potential offender?
  (Mr Tucker) The answer to that is that we use the Macpherson definition of "racist incident" and then apply that across to religious motivation. If the victim thinks it is, or if anybody else thinks it is, then it is.

Lord Avebury

  125. How many of these offences have been recorded by the Metropolitan Police so far? Does that mean they have recorded allegations or does it mean they have recorded files submitted to the CPS?
  (Mr Tucker) They are incidents, so they need not even be offences. This is picking up on the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report and recommendation of the definition of "racist incident", that all racist incidents should be recorded. We followed the same approach with faith crimes. We do have the statistics on that, but I do not have them with me. We have our intelligence system that sweeps on these every day because it is a very good potential indicator for us.

  126. Have any dossiers been submitted to the CPS?
  (Mr Tucker) I cannot tell you whether we have got to the point of offences being notified to the CPS.

  127. Is it possible we could have some information about that later on?
  (Mr Tucker) Certainly.

  Chairman: I think the Home Office was also asked about this sort of thing.

Lord Avebury

  128. Do you think that key performance indicators for religious aggravated offences or religious hatred could be defined? Do you think that key performance indicators should measure the activity of police in the wider dimension that you were talking about, that is to say their relationships with different faiths or racial communities, and the steps that they are taking by those means to avert and prevent crime? Would it be possible to design a consultative indicator that measured performance of the police under those headings?
  (Mr Fahy) We would certainly not welcome any more performance indicators; we have more than enough to be getting on with. Clearly, you could design one that would record the number of incidents. The difficulty with that is that it tends to indicate the level of confidence people have in reporting those incidents. You certainly could design an indicator which would be around the level of confidence within minority communities towards the police, and that could presumably be captured by some sort of survey. There is a difficulty there, and in this form of work, building good community relations, it is very difficult to measure. It can be affected by many other outside factors, but nevertheless it is very, very important.

Lord Bhatia

  129. You talked about a group of Muslim officers within the police force. It is a super idea for you to consult them. Is what you hear from them what you hear from the Muslim community, or do you get two different pictures?
  (Mr Tucker) That is a very good question. I think that generally the feeling on both sides, from both the Association of Muslim Police, and the Muslim contact group, is that the rules seem to operate disproportionately or unfairly against Muslims.

  130. You are getting it from both directions.
  (Mr Tucker) Yes.

Baroness Richardson of Calow

  131. As a matter of clarification, I understand you to say that it is only the Metropolitan Police that records religiously aggravated offences.
  (Mr Fahy) Yes, and that is a matter that other forces would like, but it often requires changes to software systems, because most police forces have different recording systems, so it is a long-term aspiration. If we ever achieve one national computer system for recording crime and incidents, that would be put on it, but there is a practical difficulty. There are some difficulties around definition, and we get to a difficulty in the amount of material that we now are asking police officers to record along a whole range of issues, whether drug-related, alcohol-related, or racially aggravated. The more information we ask officers to collect on different types of incidents and crimes, that clearly ties them a lot to the police station, but it also means that the data becomes more unreliable because they get tired of filling in so many boxes and trying to remember how many different questions they might have to consider at the scene of the crime, for example.

Lord Grabiner

  132. You said earlier, Mr Fahy, that you felt the public order offences were sufficient and adequate for the purpose of dealing with a football crowd situation and you did not think that the law was not adequate in that area.
  (Mr Fahy) Yes.

  133. So that you could have abusive behaviour falling short of a public order offence but you would not envisage or imagine that that needs to be covered by new legislation in that context.
  (Mr Fahy) In that context of public order legislation, when you look at sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act, which includes provisions in relation to prevention of harassment, they are quite wide-ranging. We are creating a distinction here between what might be action on the street between people in public order situations, and what is the action of people who, in a more considered, deliberate, or reckless way, may embark upon a course of action to try and ferment hostility and ill feeling between communities. That is the sort of distinction I would draw between the different types of legislation.

  134. That is why you think the public order legislation does not fill that gap; in other words, why cannot the public order legislation cover the problem we are concerned with, just as it does in the context of a football ground?
  (Mr Fahy) Because I think it does not adequately reflect the seriousness of a course of action that is intended to create hostility and ill feeling, or to stir up hatred against a particular group as defined by either race or religion.

  135. The behaviour would have to fall short of committing offences under the Public Order Act, in order to identify a gap, would it not?
  (Mr Fahy) I think it is about different types of behaviour with different intent. It seems to me that public order legislation and Protection from Harassment Act legislation is about individual actions on the street between people, and individual incidents. I create a distinction between that and somebody taking an action that is about stirring up hatred against a whole group of people.

  136. It could have the same result in terms of assaults or physical violence of some kind, but because the motivation is entirely different, it should be regulated by a different kind of law, or a new law.
  (Mr Fahy) Yes, but I still think the individual's action on the street is only going to have an effect on the people who are in close contact with that course of action, whether it is insults or fighting or threatening people; it will only affect that small group of people. With incitement legislation, we are talking about action that is directed against a whole community, a group of people as defined by race or religion, with the intent of creating ferment in society. That is why the public order legislation cannot cover that range of different intents, and why it should be considered that incitement to religious hatred is of such a serious nature that it ought to be reflected in a law that reflects the seriousness.

Chairman

  137. What you have said so far leads into the second question. You said that there is a gap that needs to be filled. You told Lady Richardson that to a large extent the criminal law on this is a deterrent rather than actually being put into effect. What has changed since the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act added the religious dimension to what used to be racial, in so far as section 39 of that Act did so? What have you seen by way of change, either in situations that you could address as police officers, or in preventing, deterring things that you saw going on before which have now stopped?
  (Mr Fahy) There is probably no great change, because I do not think the change in the law has been well understood and well publicised; so to that extent it has not had a deterrent effect. It seems to me that where it will have advantage is where actions are directed particularly against the Muslim community, and if somebody tried to justify that on the basis that it was not against a racial group but against a religious group. The law would then at least allow that to be reflected in the sentence that was given. It is not reflected in the legislation itself - racial aggravation relates to the sentence and so it would allow that to be reflected in the seriousness of the sentence given by the court, which could not have happened beforehand. That seems to be the difference, but there still remains the ability for extremists to be able to phrase propaganda in such a way as to make it against the Islamic faith, rather than against a racial group. We feel that there are extremists doing that, who are very much aware of the law and understand the law very well. They are very well advised by their legal experts and just stay within that side of the law. Certainly, when they phrase it towards Muslims, and the Muslim faith, then they can escape in legislation that covers just racial incitement.

  138. That is really our fourth question. Are there occasions when people who wish to stir up hatred of one sort of another dress it up as being religious in order to avoid being prosecuted or being arrested for a racially aggravated offence, leaving out the question of sentence for the moment? The issue of sentence only comes in because there is a comparatively small maximum for some of the lesser offences. The others can be treated by the judges in accordance with the facts, and the evidence that you produce of police behaviour. Can you give us more fact about this?
  (Mr Fahy) We believe we have examples of literature that is being produced and publicised on websites and being distributed, which has been designed to avoid the law on racial discrimination and racial incitement by directing it purely at the Muslim faith and Muslim groups. As I say, we have examples of that. We believe that it is put together in such a way to specifically stay just outside the law. We have had many instances that we have referred to the Crown Prosecution Service and to the Attorney General. Our general experience is that these groups are well advised and know just how to stay on what they term as the right side of the law. We have particularly noticed since September 11 that antipathy and hostility is directed against the Muslim faith because it is known that it is not covered by the existing legislation of racial hatred.

  139. I do not want to get involved in anything that is likely to go before the courts, but have you got any examples of this sort of thing that we can see?
  (Mr Tucker) Chairman, I have brought a selection of some things that are older than the legislation, but they do indicate that extremist organisations were prepared to avoid the race issue and use the faith issue to put forward their view. Some are quite professionally produced. The others are less so. This one is a sticker that was appearing .


 
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