Church concern at rise in religious hate crimes

Scotland - The Scottish Government’s track record in tackling sectarianism has once again come under fire from the Church following a rise of almost 10 per cent in charges for religiously motivated crimes.

According to figures released yesterday by the Scottish Government, there were 693 charges with a religious aggravation reported in 2010-11,

9.7 per cent more than in 2009-10. In contrast incidents of racially motivated crime fell by 3.6 per cent on the previous year.

Peter Kearney, director of the Catholic Media Office, said the trend was worrying.

“These hate-crime statistics make depressing reading,” he said. “The fact that religiously motivated crime has increased as racially motivated attacks have fallen is particularly unfortunate. Agencies tackling racially motivated crime seem to be doing the right thing; why are those agencies given [public] funding to tackle sectarianism not having the same effect?”

Mr Kearney added that the figures showed that sectarianism in Scotland was not confined to football related incidents.

“Clearly the number of [religiously motivated] convictions is significantly higher than the number charged during football matches, reinforcing the point made by the Catholic Church that sectarianism in Scotland is not primarily a football matter, although football does provide an outlet for bigotry,” he said.

However, he added: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to publish a full analysis of religiously motivated crime later this year following which informed and targeted action will be possible.”

Over the last five years the number of religiously aggravated charges has fluctuated between 600 and 700. The figure for 2010-11 is the highest since 2006-07.

In 2010-11, court proceedings were commenced in 85 per cent of charges, compared with 87 per cent in the previous year.

In total, 94 per cent of charges led to court proceedings (including those not separately prosecuted), and 2 per cent were dealt with by direct measures including referral to the Children’s Reporter.

Solicitor General Frank Mulholland QC, speaking prior to his appointment as Scotland’s new Lord Advocate, said he saw signs of encouragement in the figures.

“I welcome the high prosecution rate for crimes of religious prejudice. Recently we have all seen the damaging results of such crime. I want to reassure the public that our prosecution policy is extremely robust, with 94 per cent of charges leading to court proceedings,” he said. “I hope this sends a strong message to anybody who still feels that such behaviour is acceptable—there is no place for them in a modern Scotland. They can expect to be met with a zero-tolerance prosecution policy.”

SNP leader Alex Salmond spoke yesterday about religious bigotry after being appointed First Minister in the Scottish Parliament.

“We will not tolerate sectarianism as a parasite in our national game of football or anywhere else in this society,” Mr Salmond said.