Police step up fight against online hate crime with new national team
A new national police hub will be set up to boost efforts to track down trolls responsible for online hate crime and rid social media of abusive content.
The measure - announced by Home Secretary Amber Rudd - will aim to improve support for victims and drive up prosecutions of offenders responsible for abusing other internet users based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity.
Run by a small team of specialist officers, the hub's activities will include assessing whether circumstances of a complaint amount to a crime or non-crime incident, combining duplicate reports and seeking to identify perpetrators.
Where appropriate, it will make referrals to online platforms so that hateful material can be removed.
The unit will also be tasked with clarifying the force responsible for further action in each case, removing any uncertainty which could arise when, for example, a victim is located in one area, with the alleged perpetrator in another.
Groups monitoring anti-Semitic and Islamophobic abuse report that a significant proportion of incidents involve the internet and authorities and social media platforms have repeatedly come under the spotlight over their response to the problem.
Ms Rudd said: "Online hate crime is completely unacceptable. What is illegal offline is illegal online, and those who commit these cowardly crimes should be met with the full force of the law.
"The national online hate crime hub that we are funding is an important step to ensure more victims have the confidence to come forward and report the vile abuse to which they are being subjected.
"The hub will also improve our understanding of the scale and nature of this despicable form of abuse.
"With the police, we will use this new intelligence to adapt our response so that even more victims are safeguarded and perpetrators punished."
Officials said the hub's primary aim is to improve the police response to the problem of hate crime online.
Following referral to the national hub via True Vision, a police reporting website, individual complaints will be assessed and relevant cases assigned to the appropriate local force for investigation.
National Police Chiefs' Council lead for hate crime Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said: "Whether online or in person, nobody should have to live with threats and hatred because of who they are.
"Hateful abuse online can leave victims with significant psychological harm, but can also lead to more serious physical offences, so police need to be able to intervene at the earliest possible stage to reassure victims that we will act to protect them.
"This new national hub will enable a small team of specialist officers to significantly improve the service we provide to victims, reduce the burden on frontline officers, and help bring more offenders to justice.
"We recognise and will uphold the right to free speech even where it causes offence - but this does not extend to inciting hatred or threatening people."
Efforts to tackle hate crime have come under close scrutiny in the last year.
There was a surge in reports following the EU referendum in June 2016 while police registered a spike around the terrorist attacks that hit the UK earlier this year.
A total of 62,518 hate crimes were recorded by forces in England and Wales in 2015/16 while the CPS completed a record 15,442 hate crime prosecutions.
The new hub is expected to be operational before the end of the year.