Hard-hitting investigations. Why are so many perpetrators of the rising tide of racial offences in the country appearing to escape justice?
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For people from ethnic minority backgrounds
this has been a long, uncomfortable summer.
In the last five months, there have been more racial offences
in Northern Ireland than there were for the whole of last year.
Racial attacks aren?t just increasing.
They are rocketing to levels that are taking the authorities
No matter how you look at these figures they are deeply
worrying, there is a deep sense of intolerance throughout
the city that has to be addressed.
Some victims have been high-profile.
I am only human. When people make comments like that,
of course it?s offensive, it hurts.
Others have been thrust into the media glare.
But can they expect justice?
Tonight on Spotlight, we investigate why it is that against a huge rise
in racist offences, we don?t appear to be punishing perpetrators for the
racist elements of their crimes.
There is not a single racist attack where the sentence was increased
that you can give me an example of.
Well, I think that, we certainly have one example.
The Belfast Mela.
Over the last few years it?s become a celebration of a new diversity
in Northern Ireland.
Today, 25,000 people have turned out to celebrate the many cultures
that now call this place home.
Its founder and organiser is Nisha Tandon,
This is a very different image of Belfast than we?ve seen over
the summer where we?ve seen some pretty high profile racist attacks.
Yes, that?s right, and it just makes your heart break
when you see that there are some positive things going on today and
there are just these small elements who try to not sort of embrace any
other culture living beside them.
Over the last four months, the number of racist incidents recorded
by police has increased massively.
And Nisha Tandon recently said she would consider leaving
Northern Ireland because of a growing climate of racism.
Have you had any racial incidents happen to you?
Recently there was an incident and that was I was carrying these two
bags to go home and there were these two young people who just said you
need to go home and I said, listen, I am going home and he said, but
that?s a long flight and I said, it?s not a long flight,
it?s just round the corner.
How did you feel when these two young men... You have
been living in Northern Ireland for longer than they have been alive,
and they?re telling you to go home.
How does that make you feel?
I just feel they need to be taught, they need to be given that...
If you are black, brown, yellow, it doesn?t really make any difference.
But to some people, it clearly does.
These are the statistics for this summer given to us by the police.
And they show that in the last five months alone there have been more
racist offences recorded in Northern Ireland than over
the whole of the previous year.
A lot more.
You went to a hostel.
A hostel, yeah.
Because the police couldn?t guarantee
your safety in East Belfast.
Since April there have been 431 racial offences recorded by
the police across Northern Ireland.
Over the whole of the previous year there were 263.
That?s already an increase of 64% on last year.
And when you look at what?s happening in certain parts
of Belfast, the picture is even more worrying.
And much of the rise across Northern Ireland seems to be driven by what?s
happening in parts of the capital.
The new hotspot for racial offences is north Belfast, where this summer
there has been a staggering 276% rise in racially-motivated offences
recorded by the police.
East Belfast has traditionally been seen as a problem area
for race attacks, and there has been an increase there
of 134% since last year.
And this isn?t just a problem in loyalist areas.
West Belfast has also seen a big jump in racial offences, of 110%.
South Belfast saw the smallest increase, but it was
still significant, at 24%.
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr is in charge of the police operation
to clamp down on racist incidents.
No matter how you look at these figures they are deeply
worrying, there is a deep sense of intolerance throughout
the city that has to be addressed.
And what is behind this?
Some communities perceive there is a loss of single identity.
Some a displacement of political or social concerns
Some is just about thuggery and control of a local area.
The summer got off to a tempestuous start.
Pastor James McConnell of the Whitewell metropolitan
Tabernacle made a highly controversial speech about Islam.
Islam is heathen.
Islam is Satanic.
Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.
Amidst the criticism, the First Minister Peter Robinson
decided to defend Pastor McConnell.
I wouldn?t trust Muslims who are bombing and shooting.
However, there are many of the normal daily
activities of life that I would have no difficulty in trusting a Muslim
to do, to go down to the shop for me, to give me the right change.
Both Pastor McConnell and Peter Robinson later clarified their
comments, and apologised to Muslims.
But to Alliance MLA Anna Lo, the damage had been done.
She threatened to leave Northern Ireland because she felt
the lack of political leadership on hate crime, which she herself
was experiencing, made it a cold house for ethnic minorities.
I do feel vulnerable, walking on the street, because I
know ethnic minorities... I know that ethnic minorities have
been attacked and I know that when I feel vulnerable that when I walk on
the street that I may be attacked.
For Anna Lo, the defence of Pastor McConnell
by high-profile political leaders gave a disturbing insight into
public life in Northern Ireland.
For Peter Robinson to come out in defence
of the preacher McConnell, that would not have happened in
other political parties in the UK.
Anybody who is associated with his comments, I think would have seen
a public outcry, or their own party disowning them and they would be out
In early June there was another high-profile incident.
A Nigerian man, Michael Abiona, was prevented from moving
into a housing executive bungalow in Glenluce Drive in East Belfast
by a group of protestors who stood outside with banners calling
for local houses for local people.
Michael Abiona believes that the incident was racist.
Actions speak louder than words.
So if it had been a white man that had gone in I am quite sure
they would not have done that.
The case prompted another intervention by Peter Robinson.
This time he said that he believed that the case wasn?t necessarily
racist, but more likely a local housing dispute.
The First Minister has his own opinion, it was the way he felt, but
I believe the majority who either listen or hear about the story
didn?t feel the way he felt.
Once again, Peter Robinson went on to
clarify his remarks, acknowledging that what happened was being treated
as a hate incident by the PSNI.
I think the police will judge whether it was intimidation or
whether it was peaceful protest.
Dr Robbie McVeigh has written two major reports into racism
in Northern Ireland.
He feels that the First Minister?s interventions showed a lack of
understanding of how victims feel.
The bottom line should be that he should be listening to how difficult
it is to be a black and minority ethnic person in this country
and responding to that, rather than deciding that he can make a decision
around whether what a minister says or local resident says is racist,
that?s the wrong way to do it.
We asked Peter Robinson for an interview for this programme.
So did the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.
They did send us a joint statement, which said, we unreservedly condemn
race hate crimes and all forms of intimidation.
It is in all our interests that people from
minority ethnic backgrounds have a sense of belonging and know that
their place in society is valued.
By working together we can ensure all people
in our community are treated fairly and show we welcome the diversity
which enhances all our lives.
The big question posed by a summer of spiralling race hate
incidents, is how prepared we are in Northern Ireland to support
the victims of those incidents.
And not just politically.
There are also major questions over how our criminal justice system
processes offences which victims believe to be racially-motivated.
It?s early morning near Royal Avenue in the heart of the city.
This is Musa Gulusen.
And this is his daily ritual.
Every morning Musa sets up his stall where he sells everything
from loom bands to leather belts.
You build this every morning.
Every morning, this is my job.
So do you have a license to operate here?
Yeah, I have a license and every month I pay ?188.
And how long have you had a stall on Royal Avenue?
About 20 years.
Musa says the vast majority of people he interacts with on a daily
basis, from customers to passers-by, are pleasant and supportive of him.
But not everyone.
Say, on an average day, do you have people saying racist things to you?
Every day to be honest with you, every day, a couple of times.
And what do you mean, people saying things.
People say like Taxi and walk away but I am laughing, I am laughing.
And sometimes it gets more serious than name calling.
On the 11th June this year, Musa was attacked and robbed.
The initial attack happened here at his stall in full view
of horrified shoppers.
Musa says the attackers allegedly stole ?120 and left him
with bruises and a broken wrist.
And they broke your arm?
Broke my arms, yes.
I see you have still got the...?
Obviously that is very serious, has it ever happened before?
Once before yes, about three years ago,
it is the physical attacks and again Christmas time, not last Christmas,
last Christmas before again.
I mean, Musa, that is starting to sound like it's
happening on a regular basis.
I know, but that is just eejit people.
Why do you believe that it was a racial attack?
Because they called me straight to my face, "Taxi bustard".
I don't know him, he doesn't know me.
The police are currently investigating Musa's case.
We made two arrests at the time and obviously
as with all these cases, we have got to gather the evidence, present it
to the Public Prosecution Service.
It will be up to the Public Prosecution Service to decide
if there is enough evidence in Musa's case to prove that it was
in fact a racially motivated crime.
And even if Musa thinks it is, that doesn't mean the criminal justice
system will deal with it that way.
Barra McGrory is the Director of Public Prosecutions.
He says that proving any particular attack is in fact racist,
is not easy.
It's difficult to identify the race element formally
in court because that must be proved to the criminal standard
beyond all reasonable doubt.
That's what the law says, now that brings a significant number
Jolena Flett has been working with people
from ethnic minority backgrounds in Northern Ireland for a decade.
In that time she's seen many crimes that victims believe to be racist go
through the court system only for the racist element to be dropped.
So we have had cases where people will be the victim of
the racist crime, that they believe has been racially motivated.
If it goes to the courts, it will often be prosecuted
as maybe an assault but without a racial element because that
conviction is easier to secure.
There is no easy opportunity to identify
the race element formally in court.
Surely therefore that is a broken system?
Well it's the law, it's the way it is framed and certainly the policy
makers and law makers on these issues may want to revisit this.
For ethnic minorities living in Northern Ireland,
it's not a new complaint.
In fact, its ten years since one major case
where race was first alleged to be a factor, and then dropped.
Brij Sharma was a popular businessman who ran a shop
on a peaceline in North Belfast.
He had come to Northern Ireland when he was 10 years old.
I consider myself to be Northern Irish.
When it comes to asking me where my home is, this is my home.
The BBC had interviewed him about his life on the front line
of a divided society, when he described how at times, he
would be subjected to racist abuse.
Getting abuse from the ones that you grew up with, especially the ones
you know, that's very hurtful.
In May 2004 Brij Sharma was attacked.
Police witness statements from the time spoke of racial abuse
being hurled during the incident.
Brij Sharma was killed in the attack.
Today, his brother Bharat is the chairman of the
Indian Community centre in Belfast.
He believes that what happened was racially motivated.
Now, at the time and still you are convinced that this was
a racially motivated attack?
Definitely, without a doubt.
But that's not what the criminal justice system said
Yes, but part of the criminal justice system, the PSNI had made
the case and prepared the file for the culprits on a murder
charge, racially motivated murder.
So the police said there was a racial element?
But Brij Sharma had had a previous disagreement with one
of his attackers.
And that was the reason given in court that the case wasn't
prosecuted as a racist incident.
Bharat Sharma feels the racial element was swept under the carpet.
Why are you so confident that it was a racial incident?
The police had told us that there were lots of statements
from the witnesses. These brothers had only one motive.
They, in their shouting and abusing they had said, "we wanted
to teach this Taxi a lesson".
Bharat Sharma now feels like his brother's death could have
been a crucial moment for the prosecution of race-hate
crime in Northern Ireland.
So you felt this could be a watershed moment here in
Northern Ireland for race crime?
Especially with the person losing their life.
And we felt so strongly, equally on par to Stephen Lawrence's case.
Stephen Lawrence was murdered in London in 1993 in a racist attack
that was to send shockwaves through the criminal justice system.
A major report, by Sir William MacPherson into the
killing said that the metropolitan police force had mishandled the case
because Stephen Lawrence was black.
The McPherson report led to reforms of the Metropolitan Police,
and the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales.
That's precisely what should have been done here.
It wasn't done.
I would argue that we are still in pre McPherson situation.
We still haven't looked at McPherson and thought what we should do
and change about criminal justice and race in northern Ireland.
In 1998 legislation was introduced in England and Wales
which brought in a new kind of crime - racially-aggravated offences.
Those offences don't exist in Northern Ireland.
But there is legislation which allows perpetrators of crimes
to get a longer sentence if there's a racial element involved.
So, how many times have judges in Northern Ireland actually done that?
Now you might think that information would be easily available.
But it isn't - the Public prosecution Service hadn't published
that information for over two years.
We were finally given the latest statistics from the Public
Prosecution Service an hour and a half before our interview with them.
But there was still a big blind spot in the information.
It told us how many people had been brought to court
for racial offences ? but not how many of them had been convicted.
I have been through these statistics over the last couple of hours,
and I still can't find figures about how many convictions received
enhanced sentences because the crime was racially aggravated.
Yes and you will have difficulty finding that information for this
reason, is that, while the law allows for the prosecution service
to seek an enhanced sentence on the basis of aggravation by hostility to
race, it doesn't require the court to
record which element of the sentence has been increased because of that.
In England and Wales it's easy to work out the conviction rate
for racially-aggravated crimes that make it to court ? the most recent
figures say it's 73%.
But in Northern Ireland, the system doesn't tell us how many times the
racist element has been punished.
So how do we know if it's happening at all?
There is not a single racist attack aggravated by racial hostility where
the sentence was increased that you can give me an example of?
We certainly have one example where the judge very clearly set out.
Yes, when the judge very clearly set out, but that's because,
that's the only case in which the judge identified the element
of the sentence which was increased because of the racial hostility.
The PPS later provided us with details of that one case,
in which a judge said she was giving a higher sentence
for a racially-aggravated crime.
And it turns out it involved a familiar face ? Musa.
On one of the occasions when he was previously attacked,
the offender was given an increased sentence by the judge
because of the racial element.
But it's the only time the PPS can point to where it has happened.
It's clear that in Musa's case, he believes that what happened to
him this time was also a racist attack ? and it's crucial to him
that the system believes it too.
What would you think if this if this crime was processed
as just a regular assault and the charge was not racist?
Yes, I know, I hear that, he was right on the street and he
called me "dirty Taxi bustard".
You know what I mean?
So you know it was a racist hate crime?
Yes, I believe this time.
The criminal justice system is so important to people
of ethnic minorities, and especially people who have been
victims of racist attacks.
It's crucial to them, that they feel these attacks are not
just being dealt with in terms of people receiving some sort
of conviction, but being seen for what they are, racist attacks.
At the moment, we just don't know if that's happening, there is no
evidence that that's happening.
Yes, but we have given you as much material as we have available to us.
The police have to provide us as prosecutors with the evidence.
if we have the evidence, we will prosecute it on that basis.
I can't do any better than that. But why is it possible in England
and Wales and not here to keep that racial element in the case?
I think in part because they are probably ten years
ahead of the curve in terms of practice, in terms of...
Or we are ten years behind.
Ten years behind, exactly, it is a matter of perspective.
And we probably are and that is why we are working hard
with the PPS to try and make sure that we can accelerate or look
at the legislative framework.
Because this is a matter for legislators, for investigators
and for prosecutors together.
After the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the McPherson Report said
that some parts of the criminal justice system in England and Wales
were institutionally racist.
The report defined institutional racism
as the collective failure to provide appropriate or professional support
to a community on the basis of its culture, colour or ethnic origin.
So could that apply in Northern Ireland to a system that
isn't able to count how many racist attacks result in convictions with
longer prison sentences?
The term institutional racism has been used in England
about organisations where there is a collective failure to support one
particular community, or one group.
Do you think that the Public Prosecution Service,
under that definition here is institutionally racist?
If you look at the number of convictions, it would suggest that
there really is no problem with race hate here at all, because there is
almost nobody in prison serving time for being involved in it and of
course we know that isn't the case.
We have been told by some people from ethnic minority groups that
they feel the PPS, because it's not collecting this data properly,
is institutionally racist.
I have to say, I am shocked to hear words like that.
Because nobody has ever suggested that I have heard
before that the PPS has failed in its duty to minority races
within our society, or that we are not contributing in a significant
way, so I would reject it.
In some places ? such as our computer screens ? identifying
vicious racism isn't difficult.
The explosion in racial offences in Northern Ireland has been
accompanied by a rise in online racism.
Social media sites like Facebook and twitter have hosted some vicious
and vitriolic racial abuse written by people in Northern Ireland over
the past few months.
Much of it has been directed at one person in particular.
Alliance MLA Anna Lo.
As we all know, a lot of abuse came online on Facebook,
and we have some of those comments.
I assume you don't mind if we look at some of them, is that ok?
Not a problem.
These are some of the comments written about Anna Lo.
They are shocking and difficult to read, we feel it's important to show
some of them in order to reveal the nature of the abuse.
I know people have said that, oh, as a politician you should be thick
skinned, it's part and parcel of life as a politician to get abuse.
But there is not a politician anywhere
in the UK or Ireland who would be expected to put up with this?
No, no, no.
So how did it affect you personally?
Well it's very hurtful, very hurtful when people make such
abusive comments about your background, about your ethnic
origin about your appearance.
Absolutely it hurts and I am only human.
The Alliance party reported a number of the comments to the police.
So far, five people have been dealt with.
But no one was convicted ? all they received was a police caution.
Certainly in the case of Anna Lo and others we were so keen to prosecute.
To have an official sanction to make sure that people knew that
you couldn't get away with this without a police sanction.
But why were some of these people, I mean why were these people only
Surely there should have been a bigger sanction than that.
I mean they get off, don't they?
Well don't forget that is a matter for the Public Prosecution Service.
We packet the evidence, we gather the evidence,
we present it to the PPS and the PPS make a decision and sanction.
Surely in a case like this, it's in the public interest to have
some people receive deterrent sentences and prosecutions,
which will make everyone think I am not doing that again.
cautions, Anna Lo believes that cautions are not enough.
Well I do not want to go into the specifics of that case,
but that would not have been my understanding of the situation
whenever we looked at it.
But Anna Lo was clear when we spoke to her that the sanctions
didn't appear to match the crime.
If the criminal justice system had come down very hard on one or two or
more people who had written on this page, would that have been
helpful to you and to other people?
I think so.
Partly it's justice, we want justice.
You know, we don't want to be abused and see
no action done, yes, we want that to be a deterrent to let people see
that they will face consequences.
If people are just receiving cautions, it will seem to many
people like a slap on the wrist.
Yes, yes, and that should not have happened.
The point about really vicious on line racism, though, is that it has
a wider social impact, doesn't it?
It lowers the tone and it makes other people who read
it think, well, this is acceptable.
So at some point isn't there an argument that we give someone
more than a police caution?
So why haven't we done it so far?
You are focussing on one case, in which a number of diversionary
decisions were taken in the context of that case, which i can't talk
about, because it's not complete, so with the greatest of respect, Declan
this organisation takes race crime very seriously and prosecutes in
court, the vast majority of cases.
But for the victims of racist attacks, it's not prosecutions
that matter, but convictions.
And in particular, higher sentences for
the perpetrators of racist attacks.
The killer, Brij Sharma, was given a 17-month prison sentence
His brother and accomplice, who was also present, was sentenced
to 100 hours community service.
It brought home the message to every Indian person living here in
Northern Ireland - it is a question mark ? how important is their
contribution, their life in Northern
Ireland....to Northern Ireland.
The PPS told us that ten years on, they are meticulous about recording
cases which go to court as being racially motivated, and enter that
element on their computerised file about the offence.
They say since May 2013, they have recorded 124 cases as having
a racially-aggravated element.
You identifying it, on your computer system is not justice in the eyes
of a race hate victim, they want to see a conviction which takes into
account the racial element and they tell us they are never seeing it.
I appreciate that, and I have great sympathy for those
people from those communities which are being targeted in this way.
And all of us in this society, we all have to play our part
in identifying the underlying causes of this.
And in eeking out the evidence which will help us bring in new
measures to tackle this, obviously increasing cancer in our society.
Dealing with racism isn't just the job of the courts.
But they do have a crucial role to play in making
the perpetrators of racist attacks pay the price for their crimes.
Victims of those attacks need to know that justice is not just being
done, but being seen to be done.
But right now in Northern Ireland, it seems that too many victims
simply aren't seeing it.
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