First police unit dedicated to tackling online hate crime launched

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Britain's first police unit dedicated to tackling online hate crime has been launched by the Mayor of London. 

Sadiq Khan announced that five Scotland Yard officers, led by a detective inspector, will form the new team. 

The Online Hate Crime Hub aims to improve the police response to internet abuse by gathering intelligence and testing new investigative methods.

Specially recruited and trained officers will work with community groups, online platforms, academics and criminal justice partners to identify, prevent and investigate offences including those perpetrated on social media.

Mr Khan said: "We know hate crime has a huge impact on those who experience it, and that online hate, where abusers mistakenly believe they are hidden behind a screen, can be particularly damaging.

"My approach is clear: there must be zero tolerance of this behaviour, and we are working to improve protection for victims by taking advice from anti-hate organisations, who will examine whether something is actively causing harm and should be removed.

"The Online Hate Crime Hub will work with community experts to develop the police's understanding of online hate, helping officers tackle it more effectively and improving services for victims.

"We need to encourage more victims to report incidents, and explore new ways of identifying, preventing and challenging hate crime in all forms."

Once an online hate crime has been reported, it will be automatically referred to the Hub, which will provide referrals to specialist victim support partners and work with the relevant borough officers to carry out an investigation.

City Hall said discussions are also under way between the Mayor's Office for Policing And Crime, Stop Hate UK and leading social media companies to develop "appropriate online sanctions" for perpetrators of online hate, where there is evidence of significant harm to victims.

The total programme will cost £1.7 million over two years, and the unit will examine reports from London-based victims. 

Figures show that in 2015/16, the number of hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales increased by nearly a fifth, with offences registered at a rate of around 170 a day.

Community groups monitoring anti-Semitic and Islamophobic abuse report that a significant proportion of incidents involve the internet.