NEARLY half of Scotland’s police forces have no idea about the number of religious hate incidents reported in their area.
Despite the west of Scotland’s problems with sectarianism and growing concerns over Islamophobia in the wake of the 7 July terror attacks in London, Strathclyde Police does not track crimes linked to faith.
Neither the Fife nor Dumfries and Galloway force compiles such statistics. However, police in other areas have been collating them for up to a decade.
Community leaders expressed concerns yesterday, claiming little action could be taken to address religious hatred until the true picture was known.
Osama Saeed, Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said: “There is a climate of fear of Islam and general tension about the international situation. Until you know the scale of the problem, you can’t tackle it.”
He said there was a “communication gap” between the Muslim community and police, and expressed concern that some officers were treating crimes linked to religion as racially motivated.
Peter Kearney, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, suggested the data could prove valuable in the battle against sectarianism.
He said: “If this was done, then you could track trends and can have benchmarks for complaints which will give you a feel for whether the problem is increasing or diminishing.”
Ian Wilson, the grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, said: “Bigotry in society – when it manifests itself as abuse or antisocial behaviour – deserves to be faced down. If you don’t have stats, it’s an unknown quantity.”
Under legislation passed by Holyrood in June 2003, police can investigate offences as “religiously aggravated”.
In March, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) unveiled an action plan on tackling religious hate. By 2009, it aims for “consistent monitoring” of such crimes and incidents across Scotland’s eight police forces.
Colin Mather, Deputy Chief Constable of Central Scotland Police and chairman of ACPOS’s religion and faith reference group, said: “We know religiously motivated crimes can have as great an impact on individuals as those directed against their race.
“There is a need to ensure such incidents are being captured and monitored consistently and effectively to influence national, as well as local, strategies and policy and ensure the necessary support is provided to victims.”
Strathclyde Police said: “There is no statutory requirement on us to record this information. However, we are working towards a new information management system which will allow us to capture and analyse all aspects of hate crime.
Fife Constabulary said the recording of incidents relating to faith, race and sexual orientation were based on “perception”.
Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary declined to comment.
SCOTLAND’S senior police officers have recognised the need to target hate crimes linked to religion.
An action plan targeting the problem was unveiled earlier this year by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.
It will try to have statistics on religious hate crimes gathered and collated uniformly across the country.
Recruits will be educated about a range of faiths.
Northern Constabulary has been recording reported incidents of religious related crime for more than a decade.
Inspector Janice Innes, of Grampian Police – which has been compiling statistics since 2004 – said: “You don’t know if there is a problem until you look.”
A spokesman for Central Scotland Police, which also tracks these offences, said: “There is a move nationally to see a more consistent recording standard.”
Lothian and Borders Police and Tayside Police also compile figures.