Published: 14:21, 16 February 2021
| Updated: 08:39, 17 February 2021
Additional reporting by Sophie Bird
Hate crimes against the LGBT community in Kent have been described as "worrying" as a high number of offences have been recorded since 2018.
Hundreds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents have suffered from verbal abuse or physical attacks as 1,688 crimes were reported to Kent Police across the county over the last three years, including 366 in Medway.
Hilary Cooke, 64, CEO of the Medway Gender and Sexual Diversity Centre, has warned about a "notable rise" in sexual identity injustices since 2016, which has forced some people to move out of Kent after feeling unsafe at home.
Kent Police chief inspector Lara Connor said hate crime of any type will "not be tolerated" by frontline officers while Matthew Scott, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, described the high levels of hate crime as "unacceptable".
A Freedom of Information request carried out by the Local Democracy Reporting Service has found that hundreds of Kent LGBT hate crimes were recorded from 2018 to 2020, including 546 cases over the last 12 months - compared to 533 in 2019.
Tunbridge Wells saw the largest year-on-year increase in hate crimes based on sexual identity after 24 were recorded in 2018 and 2019 then 31 were recorded in 2020.
The Medway Towns, which covers Rochester, Gillingham and Chatham, also saw a rise from from 119 cases in 2018 to 121 in 2019 and 126 in 2020.
Click the labels to see yearly data
Further figures published by the Home Office yesterday show the largest number of hate crimes against LGBT people since records began in 2011 - with 14,491 against sexual minorities and 2,333 against transgender people in 2019 across the UK.
Though hate crimes due to sexual orientation rose 25%, transgender people have seen the largest rise in hate crimes committed against them of any minority group - with a 37% rise in 2019.
Ms Cooke, who is transgender and lives near Blue Bell Hill, revealed her personal experience. She said: "I myself have unfortunately been a victim, which was a physical attack back in the early 1990s.
"I ended up in hospital. The response from the police, the NHS and everybody was fantastic and they tried to support me.
"Unfortunately there was not enough identifying evidence to take the perpetrator to court."
In Kent, Thanet has the second highest number of reported hate crimes, with 206 cases, in the last three years. Meanwhile 11 districts saw between 70 and 132 incidents from 2018 to 2020, with Sevenoaks having the lowest.
Jeff Ingold, who is head of media at Stonewall's LGBT rights charity, said: "These worrying statistics are a wake-up call.
"It’s 2021 – lesbian, gay, bi and trans people should feel safe and not face hatred simply because of who they are.
"These statistics are the real life consequence of a society where anti-LGBT+ attitudes still exist and people feel emboldened to act on them."
Meanwhile, the FOI has also shown that only 7% of the 1,688 LGBT hate crimes recorded from 2018 to 2020 resulted in suspects being charged.
Around 15% of cases, 272 in total, were not pursued because of "evidential difficulties" preventing further action, despite victims supporting the move.
Defending, Ms Connor said: "We put victims at the heart of everything we do and their wishes are taken into consideration when investigating incidents.
"They may simply wish for certain behaviour to stop without having the trauma of going to court."
UK LGBT rights charity, Stonewall, yesterday called on all authorities to take more action to make their local communities safer, working closely with the police, as they warn that four in five anti-LGBT hate crimes go unreported in England.
Laura Russell, Stonewall’s director of campaigns, policy and research, said: "While it is possible that the increase is due to higher confidence in reporting, these figures are still likely to only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hate crimes against LGBT people. From our research into hate crime, we know that four in five anti-LGBT hate crimes go unreported, with younger people particularly reluctant to go to the police.
"We have long been concerned about the impact debates on LGBT-inclusive education and trans equality in the media, online and in the streets would have on our community. The significant rise in hate crimes against trans people shows the consequences of a society where transphobia is everywhere.
"We are still not living in a society where every LGBT person is free to be themselves and live without fear of discrimination and abuse."
Kent Police have urged people to report hate crime via 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.