Responding to hate

Authorised Professional Practice

Page contents

Page contents

Click on the links below to jump to the respective piece of content on this page.

Back to authorised professional practice

This page is from APP, the official source of professional practice for policing.

First published
Written by College of Policing
Hate crime
20 mins read

Police officers and staff should respond positively to allegations, signs and perceptions of hostility and hate. Chief officers should ensure that their force has a clear policy that sets out a standard for the priority response to, and investigation of hate crime and non-crime hate incidents ensuring the response is proportionate. Supervisors and managers should proactively check reports of hate crime and non-crime hate incidents to ensure that the appropriate action has been taken and that allegations are investigated in a consistent and proportionate manner. Chief officers, with the support of the police and crime commissioners (PCCs) (or deputy mayors for policing and crime in London and Greater Manchester) should ensure that supervisory, management and performance processes support an effective response to hate crimes and non-crime hate incidents. There are five monitored strands of hate crime:

  • disability
  • race
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • transgender

These strands are monitored as part of the annual data return. Hate crimes and non-crime hate incidents are also committed against victims who are targeted because of a non-monitored personal characteristic. This guidance also applies to those allegations.

Note: The terms ‘victim’ and ‘suspect’ are used throughout this authorised professional practice (APP) to refer to the person reporting an allegation and to the alleged perpetrator. These terms do not mean that a crime has been reported or that an investigation into a crime is taking place.

Agreed definitions

The following definitions are shared by all criminal justice agencies and form the basis for national hate crime data recording. This does not deny hate as a motivating factor in other crimes. These definitions are inclusive and apply to both majority and minority groups.

Hate motivation

Hate crimes and incidents are taken to mean any crime or incident where the perpetrator’s hostility or prejudice against an identifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimised. This is a broad and inclusive definition. A victim does not have to be a member of the group. In fact, anyone who is perceived to be or associated with an identifiable group of people, could be a victim of a hate crime or non-crime hate incident.

Hate incident

Any non-crime incident which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on:

  • a person’s race or perceived race
    • any racial group or ethnic background including countries within the UK and Gypsy and Traveller groups
  • a person’s religion or perceived religion
    • any religious group including those who have no faith
  • a person’s sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation
    • any person’s sexual orientation
  • a person’s disability or perceived disability
    • any disability including physical disability, learning disability and mental health or developmental disorders
  • a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender
    • including people who are transsexual, transgender, cross dressers and those who hold a Gender Recognition Certificate under the Gender Recognition Act 2004

See also Responding to non-crime hate incidents.

Hate crime

A hate crime is any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on:

  • a person’s race or perceived race
    • any racial group or ethnic background including countries within the UK and Gypsy and Traveller groups
  • a person’s religion or perceived religion
    • any religious group including those who have no faith
  • a person’s sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation
    • any person’s sexual orientation
  • a person’s disability or perceived disability
    • any disability including physical disability, learning disability and mental health or developmental disorders
  • a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender
    • including people who are transsexual, transgender, cross dressers and those who hold a Gender Recognition Certificate under the Gender Recognition Act 2004

While a crime may be recorded as a ‘hate crime’, it may only be prosecuted as such if evidence of hostility is submitted as part of the case file. This definition is based on the 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report.

Hate crime prosecution 

A hate crime prosecution is any hate crime which has been charged by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the aggravated form or where the prosecutor has assessed that there is sufficient evidence of the hostility element to be put before the court when the offender is sentenced.


The term ‘hate’ implies a high degree of animosity. The definition and the legislation it reflects requires that the crime involves demonstration of or be motivated (wholly or partially) by hostility or prejudice. The CPS gives the following guidance to prosecutors: In the absence of a precise legal definition of hostility, consideration should be given to ordinary dictionary definitions, which include ill-will, ill-feeling, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment, and dislike.

See also Evidencing hostility.


  • racial group includes asylum seekers and migrants
  • religion includes sectarianism
  • sexual orientation includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual

Perception-based recording

Where the victim, or any other person, perceives that they have been targeted because of hate or hostility against a monitored or non-monitored personal characteristic, the incident should be recorded and flagged as a hate crime (where circumstances meet crime recording standards), or a non-crime hate incident. The victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief for the purposes of reporting, and police officers or staff should not directly challenge this perception.

Perception-based recording will help to reduce under-recording, highlight the hate element and improve understanding about hate-motivated offending. All allegations of hate crime will be subject to investigation to identify, and where available gather evidence to demonstrate the hostility element and support a prosecution. Where supporting evidence is not found, the crime will not be charged or prosecuted as a hate crime. Where a case cannot be prosecuted as a hate crime, the flag will remain on file.

Any other person

A hate crime or non-crime hate incident should not be recorded as such if it is based on the perception of a person or group who has no knowledge of the victim, crime or area, and who may be responding to media or internet stories, or who is reporting for a political or similar motive.

Anyone can be the victim of a hate crime or non-crime hate incident, including those from majority groups and police professionals.

For example: A heterosexual man who is verbally abused leaving a venue popular with the LGBT+ community may perceive the abuse is motivated by hostility based on sexual orientation, although he himself is not gay.

Any other person could refer to any one of a number of people, including:

  • police officers, staff or prosecutors
  • witnesses
  • family members
  • members of civil society organisations who know the victim, the crime or hate crimes in the locality, such as a third-party reporting charity
  • a carer or other professional who supports the victim
  • someone who has knowledge of hate crime in the area – this could include professionals and experts, eg, the manager of an education centre used by people with learning disabilities who regularly receives reports of abuse from students
  • a person from within the group targeted by the hostility

Non-monitored hate crime

The five strands of monitored hate crime are the minimum categories that police officers and staff must record and flag. There are, however, other groups and individuals who may be targeted due to their personal characteristics. Forces, agencies and partnerships can extend their local policy response to include hostility against other groups or personal characteristics, they believe are prevalent in their area or that are causing concern to their community.

Case study – Sophie Lancaster 

In August 2007, Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were attacked without provocation. Both suffered a violent and sustained attack. Sophie’s injuries were so severe that she died 13 days later. The attack was motivated by hate because Sophie and Robert looked and dressed differently. They were perceived to be Goths, and were part of an ‘alternative’ subculture. They wore distinctive clothing and make-up associated with their lifestyle. To their attackers they were known as ‘moshers’ and were, therefore, a target. In sentencing, the judge said that he was convinced that the murder was a hate crime. The law did not provide for a specific enhanced sentencing provision, but the court was able to take into account the hostility when calculating the seriousness of the offence for sentencing purposes.

Caste-based crimes

Some communities have a historical culture of caste definition where some sections of communities are considered to be less worthy than others. This can lead to isolation of subgroups within broader communities and this may lead to discrimination. It can, on occasion, also lead to hostility within communities. These incidents can be recorded and flagged as a race or religious hate crime or non-crime hate incident. But, that may not be appropriate in all cases and each incident should be considered on its facts and the perception of the victim.

Where a trend is identified or a community reports concerns about a new type of hate crime or non-crime hate incident, in particular relating to non-monitored hate crime, action should be taken to address this. This may include:

  • including it in local policy
  • seeking more information on the extent of the hostility
  • community engagement activity
  • media strategies
  • problem-solving approaches with education services or other stakeholders
  • including it in the threat assessment process within the National Intelligence Model (NIM)

Case study – attacks on street sex workers 

Merseyside Police and partners recognised they had a significant problem of violent attacks against street sex workers and that there were similarities with other types of hate crime. Some believed the attacks were fuelled by gender hostility, and were able to show a significant problem of under-reporting. Merseyside Police introduced crimes against sex workers into the locally monitored strands of hate crime to demonstrate their commitment to addressing these issues. Merseyside Police led partnership activity and played a key role in providing a more victim-focused multi-agency response.

Repeat victimisation

The first time an incident or crime comes to the notice of the police is not necessarily the first time it has happened. Victims may be too frightened to report earlier incidents or may not realise that the abuse they are suffering is a crime, or an incident the police will record and/or respond to. All investigators, including first responders, should ensure they investigate circumstances fully, including any possible history of abuse.

The Home Office Circular 19/2000 on Domestic Abuse defines repeat victimisation as ‘being the victim of the same type of crime (for example, hate crime) more than once in the last 12 months’.

This definition is useful in understanding repeat victimisation in hate crimes and incidents. The victim may be subject to repeated incidents by the same offender, or repeated incidents by different offenders. Repeat incidents must be recorded as they may demonstrate a course of conduct, for example, harassment, or an escalation in behaviour or increased community tension, and are likely to increase the threat of further attacks.

Secondary victimisation

The 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry highlighted that a victim may suffer further harm because of insensitive or abusive treatment from the police service or others. This may include, for example, perceived indifference or rejection from the police when reporting a hate crime or non-crime hate incident. This harm will amount to secondary victimisation.

Secondary victimisation is based on victim perception and it is immaterial whether it is reasonable or not for the victim to feel that way. An open and sensitive policing response can prevent escalation. Police decision-making and actions should be clearly explained to the victim. This is particularly important where the outcome is not what the victim was expecting. Secondary victimisation can cause an incident to escalate into a critical incident. Where this has happened, a senior officer should be notified and the incident managed appropriately.


Legislation provides three specific options to support the prosecution of hate crime:

  • offences of inciting hatred on the grounds of race, religion and sexual orientation
  • specific racially and religiously aggravated offences under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998
  • enhanced sentencing under the Criminal Justice Act 2003

Note: see also The Criminal Justice (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 for legislation that applies in Northern Ireland only.

Racially or religiously aggravated offences

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (the 1988 Act) introduced racially aggravated offences. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 amended the 1998 Act to also include religiously aggravated offences. Sections 29−32 of the 1998 Act identify a number of offences, which, if motivated by hostility, or where the offender demonstrates hostility, can be treated as racially or religiously aggravated. These offences can be the preferred charge where there is evidence of racial or religious aggravation when committing the offence. For any other offence where there is evidence it was motivated by hate, or for any other strand of hate crime not covered by the 1998 Act, the CPS can request enhanced sentencing. See also Enhanced sentencing for other crimes motivated by hostility.


Section 28 of the 1998 Act sets out that an offence is racially or religiously aggravated if: (a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates hostility towards the victim, based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group; or (b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group

  • ‘membership’ includes association with members of that group
  • ‘presumed’ means presumed by the offender

It is immaterial whether or not the offender’s hostility is also based, to any extent, on any other factor not mentioned in the 1998 Act, section 28. A racial group is any group of people defined by reference to their race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origins. See R v Rogers [2007] UKHL 8 for further explanation of the term ‘racial group’. A religious group is any group of people defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief. This would include sectarian hostility.

Specific hate crime offences

A number of specific offences have been created by legislation, which, when the relevant points have been proved, will always be considered as hate crime. The 1998 Act created a number of specific offences of racially and religiously aggravated crime, based on offences of wounding, assault, criminal damage, harassment and threatening and/or abusive behaviour.

Incitement offences contained in the Public Order Act 1986 also include offences of distribution, broadcasting, performance, public display and possession of inflammatory material. See also Inciting hatred.

Racist chanting

Section 3 of the Football (Offences) Act 1991 makes it an offence to engage or take part in chanting of an indecent or racialist nature at a designated football match. A designated football match means an association football match or a match designated by the Secretary of State. Chanting means the repeated uttering of any words or sounds, whether alone or in concert with one or more others. Of a racialist nature means consisting of, or including, matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting to a person because of their colour, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origins.

Sentencing for hate crime

Enhanced sentencing provisions under Section 66 of the Sentencing Act 2020 apply where the court is considering the seriousness of an offence aggravated by hostility related to the race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity of the victim. In such cases the court must treat the fact that the offence is aggravated by hostility as an aggravating factor and must state this in open court. It is therefore essential to provide supporting evidence showing motivation and/or demonstration of hostility.

Enhanced sentencing for other crimes motivated by hostility

Where the hostility is aimed, for example, at the victim’s age, gender or lifestyle choice, the courts may consider the targeted nature of the crime. Section 63 of the Sentencing Act 2020 requires the court to consider the offender's culpability and any harm caused when considering the seriousness of any offence. The Sentencing Council for England and Wales has provided guidance on aggravating factors when considering the seriousness of an offence, for example:

  • offence motivated by hostility towards a minority group, or a member or members of it
  • deliberate targeting of vulnerable victim(s)

In a case involving a victim with a disability, where there is evidence of targeting due to perceived vulnerability but the definition of hostility does not apply, evidence of the targeted nature of the crime can be brought to the court and may support enhanced sentencing.

Witness intimidation

Witness intimidation is an offence under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, section 51(1) and 51(2) of . It can also constitute a common law offence of perverting the course of justice. Witness intimidation in a hate crime case is particularly damaging. Witnesses who have been subjected to, or are at risk of, intimidation should be afforded the same level of service as the original victim. See also Risk management.

Officer discretion

It may not always be appropriate or proportionate to impose a criminal sanction where hate is a motivating factor and a crime has been committed. However, the more serious the crime, the more likely a prosecution will be required under the public interest test. Where the victim does not support a prosecution but simply wants the criminal behaviour to stop, it is important to remember the victim’s views may not be the deciding factor.

Where a victim does not support a prosecution or requests an alternative remedy, it is important that the victim’s decision is properly informed and they are made aware of available support in going to court. See Victim and witness support and care. To consider the full range of alternative remedies or sanctions available, officers should consult their local hate crime unit, community safety partnerships (CSPs) or CPS hate crime coordinator. See also Alternative outcomes.

Under-reporting of hate crimes

Many people, particularly those in isolated communities, may find it difficult or be reluctant to report to the police directly, but may be more willing to report to a community resource. The need to provide facilities for victims to report to a third party was one of the key findings of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in 1999. Chief officers should consider how to encourage increased reporting of non-crime hate incidents and hate crimes in their force.

Third-party or assisted reporting

Third-party reporting services aim to increase hate crime reporting and the flow of intelligence from a community by providing alternative methods of contacting the police and reporting a crime. If the police are proactive and deliver effective third-party reporting services tailored to meet the needs of victims, more victims may be encouraged to come forward. Targeting schemes at individuals or groups who face the highest risk of victimisation, and/or those who are least likely to report crimes to the police, may be particularly beneficial. Those with knowledge of the community and its challenges are best placed to decide what may be the most effective method to reach these groups/communities. 

True Vision has a range of web-based and physical resources to help forces develop third-party reporting services, for example, ‘easy-read’ information or translated reporting forms. The effectiveness of third-party services should be periodically measured to ensure they have and retain the expected impact. Where appropriate, different approaches may need to be tried to achieve the best effect. Community partners involved in third-party reporting services should agree on the method and timescales for monitoring performance. Victims are primarily encouraged to report crimes directly to the police, so in addition to measuring the number of reports submitted to the police through the service, it is also important to consider a scheme’s impact on community confidence and the broader support it offers to victims, professionals and communities.

Recommended review process for third party reporting services

Data sharing with third-party reporting facilities

An information sharing and data-security protocol must be established between the third-party service and the police taking into account the Data Protection Act 2018, so that those using the site are confident about what will happen to the information they provide and its security. Specimen information-sharing agreements and other support material can be found at True Vision. One example of a successful third-party service is the national charity Stop Hate UK, which also produces resources available in 40 languages, including: Braille, large print, words into pictures/easy read, a British Sign Language DVD and audio recording, and has a number of specific materials on sexual orientation, mental health hate crime and young people.

Data recording

All forces report hate crime data as part of the Home Office annual data requirement. Police managers should have systems in place to monitor this process and to ensure that staff know how to report crimes and incidents accurately. See also Performance management.

National Standard for Incident Recording

The National Standard for Incident Recording (NSIR) provides a framework for recording incidents, whether crime or non-crime, consistently and accurately. This allows the resulting data to be used at a local and national level and to meet the management and performance information needs of all stakeholders. It also allows the UK to meet its international commitments, which include transparency about the collection of hate crime data. The NSIR includes the National Incident Category List (NICL) and counting rules. It provides recording guidance for incidents where hate is identified as a qualifying element. Where an incident record is created in accordance with the NSIR, certain information must be recorded.


The majority of hate crimes are both recordable and notifiable. See the Home Office Counting Rules for further information. Hate crime is not recorded as a single category of crime. Instead, it occurs as a feature of different types of crime. The counting rules include a number of crime types where the racially or religiously aggravated forms of hate crime might commonly be recorded. However, some forms of hate crime fall outside these specific categories. The Offence Classification Index 2019 includes the following specific crimes where racial or religious aggravation commonly occur:

  • 8M racially or religiously aggravated harassment
  • 8P racially or religiously aggravated assault with injury
  • 105B racially or religiously aggravated assault without injury
  • 58J racially or religiously aggravated criminal damage
  • 9B racially or religiously aggravated public fear, alarm or distress

Management of police information

Under Home Office (2005) Code of Practice on Management of Police Information, the police are authorised, and should have clear guidelines, to manage information, including personal information, for a police purpose. In making a record, particularly where the incident is a non-crime hate incident, police must also apply the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The information held must take into account the six data protection principles for law enforcement and general processing, in particular the first principle of lawfulness, fairness and transparency. Records must be held consistently, identifying the nature of the information and its purpose. Any information must be managed in line with the Code of Practice and supporting APP on information management for the retention and disposal of police records.


Was this page useful?

Do not provide personal information such as your name or email address in the feedback form. Read our privacy policy for more information on how we use this data

What is the reason for your answer?
I couldn't find what I was looking for
The information wasn't relevant to me
The information is too complicated