Fewer alleged hate criminals were prosecuted last year despite a spike in reported incidents around the EU referendum, new figures reveal.
In 2016-17 a total of 14,480 hate crime prosecutions were completed across England and Wales.
This tally was down from 15,442 in the previous financial year, a fall of nearly 1,000, or 6.2 per cent.
Data on hate crime prosecutions cover offences perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity.
The dip in the number of defendants pursued through courts over the year to the end of March will prompt fresh scrutiny of authorities’ handling of complaints.
Crime figures yet to be published
Figures on the number of hate crime offences recorded by police for the full 12 months have not yet been published.
But specially-compiled statistics released last year revealed a sharp rise in the number of racially or religiously aggravated offences logged by forces in the weeks following the referendum in June.
In a new report, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that there was a small increase, of 0.7 per cent, from 12,997 to 13,086, in the number of hate crime cases referred by police in 2016-17 compared with the previous year.
But this slight rise followed a 9.6 per cent drop in referrals from 2014-15 to 2015-16.
Hate crime spike around terror attacks
Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said: ‘The drop in referrals recorded last year has impacted on the number of completed prosecutions in 2016-17 and we are working with the police at a local and national level to understand the reasons for the overall fall in referrals in the past two years.’
Reports of hate incidents have also spiked around terror attacks that have hit Britain in 2017, although any impact of these rises on prosecution figures will not be clear until data for the current financial year are published.
The report also highlighted how sentences for hate crimes were ‘uplifted’ following applications by prosecutors in a record 6,306 cases.
Ms Saunders said: ‘Crimes motivated by hate have a corrosive effect on society and it is pleasing to see the courts are using their powers to increase sentences in the majority of cases for the first time.’
A Home Office spokeswoman said: ‘All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable and the UK has some of the strongest laws in the world to tackle it.
‘We are clear that the cowards who commit these hateful attacks should feel the full force of the law.’