The PSNI officer in charge of investigating racist hate crime has told the North Belfast News that recent attacks on homes cannot be linked to loyalist paramilitaries.
However, Superintendent Paula Hillman said that many of the recent attacks were still under investigation and police would “go where the evidence takes us”.
Speaking from her office in Antrim Road police station, Superintendent Hillman said she was focused on encouraging people to come forward as race crime is under-reported.
Asked why the UVF have been blamed by police for race hate attacks in South and East Belfast, but not in North Belfast, Superintendent Hillman said the evidence isn’t there.
“I think that within South and East Belfast, Assistant Chief Constable Kerr was speaking to the Probation Board about a specific operation that’s ongoing, but what I would say to you is that we will go to where the evidence takes us,” she said. “Now, when we are looking at hate crime and the causes and the people we have charged, we have across Belfast made 44 arrests. We are listening and responding but we will go where the evidence takes us in that regard.”
The reasons for the attacks are “complex”, she says.
“It is a complex issue and what we are seeing is a range of motivations, and what I mean by that is when you look at the people we have arrested, or the nature of the offences, it’s just too simplistic to say it’s one reason. There are issues around perceptions around social housing, displaced sectarianism and where people have ongoing societal issues.
“Our job as police is to keep the community safe and where those offences have been committed to carry out full and throughout investigations and bring the offenders to court. The long-term solution to this is a multi-agency, wider societal issue, and we very much want to sit around the table with other organisations.”
Since April a total of 99 offences with a racist motivation have been reported in North Belfast, up from 34 last year. Between North and West Belfast (PSNI A Division) at total of 123 offences have been reported, with 44 arrests, 14 reported to the PPS, and seven released on bail.
This, says the Superintendent, is something that has to be improved.
“So far this year’s convictions are sitting at 6.5 per cent and we need to focus on that but we have brought five more people before the courts than the same time last year, but the 44 are cases in progress, so some of those still have to go through court.”
Significant resources are being put into tackling racism, she says.
“Within our investigative capacity, when a victim is a victim of hate crime we have within each policing area hate and signal crime officers so they will go out to other support networks who will come in. There are advocates through Victim Support and they can help the victims of crime and assist with communication. We also have a translation service for 50 different languages because that has also been an issue. We launched a dedicated phone line for hate crime and we have had 152 calls to that. That is all hate crimes across Northern Ireland, but it was important to give people a clear line of communication with us.
“By us recording it as a hate crime, it means there are certain processes and advanced services that we can put in place in terms of victim support. We recognise that overall, while hate crime amounts to a small number of crimes that are reported, it has a major impact on those victims and we recognise that.”
A 29-year veteran of the RUC and PSNI, the Supertintendent says that her experience of hate crime is that it impacts on the most vulnerable.
“For me what has been really clear when you speak to the victims and the groups that represent them is the fear they feel, the human fear that maybe a woman and her child are sitting at home at night and a brick comes through her window.”