Published: 06:00, 19 August 2019
An equality and human rights campaigner has called on people to talk about attacks against minority groups after a recorded surge in offences.
Christine Locke, chief executive and chief project officer at Diversity House in Sittingbourne, was reacting to hate crime statistics against people based on sexual orientation, disability, race or religion.
Between October 2017 and September 2018 there were 307 reported offences, up 66% from 185 the previous year.
It followed a letter sent to businesses by Cllr Richard Palmer (Swale Ind) asking for firms to sponsor the Swale Fusion Festival – a celebration of light around values of respect, excellence, friendship and equality.
The festival is due to be held in Sittingbourne High Street on Friday, October 11.
Responding to the statistics, Mrs Locke said: “I’m appalled.
“People have been moving into Swale because it’s deemed a peaceful place. I’ve lived in Swale for nearly 20 years and I’ve never seen it this bad before. Of course it scares me. We don’t want to see a situation whereby you’re on the Island or in Sittingbourne and you can’t walk freely after 4pm because you’re afraid of being attacked.
“I’m anxious about it.
“We don’t want to be like some parts of Medway where you are worried about someone using a knife against you.
'I’m anxious about it' - Christine Locke
“We need to talk openly and candidly and bring it out in the open. If we want these problems to go away, we can’t sweep this under the carpet.
“Remember that it may also be down to people having the courage to go and report it, whereas in the past they may not have had the confidence to do so.
“Maybe it’s the economic uncertainty. People react in different ways when they fret about their future.
“As an organisation we want to promote work within the community and cohesion.”
Kent Police’s deputy district commander for Swale, Insp Richard Bushell, said: “Crimes which are motivated by these factors are abhorrent and thoroughly investigated by police.
“Historically, offending of this nature has been underreported and officers across Swale have worked closely with affected communities to help build their confidence in reporting hate crime offences.
“This work includes regular visits to places of worship and participating in community events, such as the upcoming Fusion Festival.
“In addition to this, widespread media reporting on hate crime has improved public knowledge and empowered victims to have the confidence to make a report.
“As a by-product of this engagement work and better understanding, an increase in hate crime reports has been seen nationally and Swale is not exempt from this trend.
'Crimes which are motivated by these factors are abhorrent and thoroughly investigated' - Insp Richard Bushell
“While we do not want anyone to be a victim, it is important that we are informed when incidents do occur so we can take the necessary action and protect victims from further harm.
“I would encourage anyone affected by hate crime to call us on 101, or 999 in an emergency.
“Incidents that do not require an immediate response can also be reported via the Kent Police website.”