Six months ago shopkeeper Nanda Vayanaperumal had all but lost hope.
The desperate father-of-one was living in fear after being subjected to a torrent of racist abuse and attacks on his new Paulsgrove convenience store.
He endured seven attacks in a two-month period after opening the Danny Mart in Ludlow Road.
After suffering racist abuse, having paint repeatedly thrown at his shop, vile racist graffiti daubed on the store’s shutter and windows smashed, Nanda felt helpless.
In one particularly distressing incident, a thug threw a can of paint through the shop door while the store was open to customers.
Paint splattered across the floor and Nanda’s stock was damaged.
Nanda lost vital business when he had to shut the shop for three hours in order to clean the mess up.
And he was left too afraid to park his car outside the store after the tyres were slashed.
But the brave 34-year-old vowed to battle on and keep the shop open.
Despite his fear of repercussions, Nanda decided to speak out against his tormentors – contacting the police and revealing his plight in The News.
The community rallied round and Nanda says his life has changed for the better.
‘We haven’t had any paint thrown or any criminal damage or anything like that,’ he says.
‘We haven’t had any problems since April. It’s literally because of The News.
‘Things have changed. I can park my car outside the shop now. ‘
Nanda adds: ‘It’s changing the way people treat us – it’s changed people’s attitudes.
‘We have had lots of support from local people.
‘I was looking for help. I felt my problems were being ignored. If The News hadn’t done what it did, I would have totally lost hope.’
Police arrested and later charged teenager Michael Curtis over one of the racist abuse incidents.
Curtis, 19, of Blakemere Crescent, Paulsgrove, Portsmouth, denied using racially aggravated threatening words or behaviour towards Nanda with the intention of causing him harassment, alarm or distress.
But he was found guilty of the crime at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court.
Nanda – who gave evidence in court – welcomed the conviction.
However he is calling for tougher penalties for racially aggravated crimes after Curtis escaped with a two-year conditional discharge.
Curtis was also ordered to pay £150 in court costs.
‘It’s not a big punishment for what he did,’ says Nanda.
‘For two years he needs to keep the peace.
‘Personally I think this is nothing for him compared to the suffering we had.
‘The judgment was not good enough. All citizens are expected to keep the peace anyway. After two years he can do what he wants.
‘More needs to be done to stop this type of crime.’
Sergeant Simon Roberts from Paulsgrove Safer Neighbourhoods Team, has thanked officers and the local community for their help in bringing Curtis to justice – and vowed police will do all they can to catch other perpetrators of hate crime.
Sgt Roberts says: ‘Racial abuse and intimidation will not be tolerated by police in Portsmouth.
‘We take all reports of this nature very seriously and will work with our communities to bring those responsible to justice.
‘I would like to thank the Safer Neighbourhoods team for their hard work throughout the investigation and the Paulsgrove community for their assistance.’
Figures from the Association of Chief Police officers show there were 1,192 recorded hate crimes in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight last year – the ninth highest out of 43 forces nationwide.
Of those 992, or 83 per cent, were race hate crimes.
However hate crime was down 10 per cent in our area from 1,330 crimes recorded the previous year.
Nationwide there was a seven per cent drop in hate crime year-on-year from 51,920 incident reports in 2009 to 48,127 last year.
The majority of hate crimes reported nationally were racially aggravated.
However figures show there was a rise in transgender and disability-related hate crimes across the country.
In Hampshire and the Isle of Wight transgender hate crime reports, although comparatively small in number, still doubled year-on-year to 16.
And disability hate crimes soared from 17 to 47 – a rise of 176 per cent.
Police say any form of hate crime – whether racist, disability hate crime, anti-semitic or transgender related, or linked to a person’s sexual orientation – is unacceptable.
ACPO says it is determined to encourage more victims to come forward and report hate crime.
Chief Constable Stephen Otter, the organisation’s lead on equality, diversity and human rights, says: ‘The 2010 data importantly shows increases in disability and transgender hate crime.
‘While we would obviously want to see reductions in the incidence of all hate crime, we know that these crimes have been significantly under-reported in the past.
‘We have committed to building victims’ confidence and improving our recording practices so that more victims can access the service they deserve.’