Hate crimes jump across England, Wales, NIreland

More than 50,000 hate crimes were reported last year across England, Wales and Northern Ireland — a rise of 12 percent over the last year.

Police figures released Tuesday that the number of offenses perceived as hate crimes rose more to 52,028 in 2009, compared with 46,300 a year earlier. Police here only began recording hate crimes in April 2008 following the adoption of a universal definition for the term.

More than 43,000 of the incidents in 2009 were race-related, while nearly 5,000 crimes were motivated by sexual orientation. Others were motivated by religion, faith or disability.

British human rights activist Peter Tatchell, well known in Britain for his campaigns on gay rights issues, described the rise as alarming, although he noted that "it's really hard to say with any authority why the figures are going up."

He said it was possible that attacks were on the rise — or simply that hate crimes were being reported more frequently.

"It may be a bit of both," he said.

Politicians here have worried that the economic downturn could be a boon for hate groups, and both Muslim and Jewish groups in Britain have reported spikes in attacks on their communities. While Britain remains a generally tolerant place for gays, attacks do still occur — including a case in which a gay man was stamped and kicked to death in Trafalgar Square last year.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said it hoped the data would encourage victims and witnesses of hate crimes to come forward.