Victim status? I don’t want to live that way!
By Martin Evans, Crime Correspondent
Greater Manchester Police is to become the first force in the country to officially record such offences in the same way as those based on disability, race, religion and sexual orientation.
The move means victims of crime who feel they have been targeted because of their distinctive clothing, hairstyle and even musical tastes will receive special support from the police.
At the moment courts only consider hate as an aggravating factor when sentencing if it is based on religion, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation.
But campaigners want the law to be broadened to include a much wider range of groups and subcultures.
The decision by the Greater Manchester force to redraft the definition of a hate-crime has been welcomed by the mother of Sophie Lancaster, a gap year student who was brutally murdered in 2007 because of the way she was dressed.
The 20-year-old, who was a member of the Goth subculture and liked to dress in black clothes and wear stark make-up, was attacked by a group of youths as she walked through a park in Rossendale, Lancashire with her boyfriend.
She was left in a coma and never regained consciousness after being repeatedly kicked in the head by a mob who took exception to the way she and her boyfriend were dressed.
The Sophie Lancaster Foundation was later set up in order to campaign for better protection in law for members of subcultures.
A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police admitted that the definition of an alternative subculture was broad but said it included Goths, Emos, Punks and Metallers.
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, said: “The launch of this new strand of recordable hate crime is a major breakthrough. We are able to officially recognise that people who wish to express their alternative subculture identity freely should not have to tolerate hate crime – something that many people have to endure on a daily basis.
“This means that we can recognise the impact that alternative subculture hate crime has on its victims and the wider community, we can offer better support and risk assess the potential for repeat victimisation.”
The force is also planning to offer special training for police officers to better understand the victims of such hate crimes.
ACC Shewan continues: “Sophie’s tragic death brought forward a need to recognise that there are many other victims of hate crime that should be protected by law. “
He added: “Hate crime ruins many people’s lives and in some cases can tragically cost lives. We work with many organisations to raise the awareness of what hate crime is and how victims can be supported and we will continue to encourage our communities to challenge it, report it and help us to stop it.”
Sylvia Lancaster, Sophie’s mother said: “It is a very proud day for me personally and the rest of the team. It is a validation of the work we have undertaken in the past five years and hopefully other forces will follow GMP’s lead.”