Hammersmith & Fulham is a small, cramped West London borough criss-crossed by major roads in and out of central London and crammed full of people. With a population determined by the 2011 census as 182,500, it ranks as the sixth most densely populated local authority in the country. Over the past year, contrasting statistics have emerged about crime in the borough, one stating that in general crime has fallen, while another shows race and religious hate crime to have in fact risen, with the Muslim population particularly affected. There are several reasons behind this discrepancy, writes Phil Cooper of Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum (HFRF).
Hammersmith & Fulham’s ethnic population has been growing steadily, from just over 42% in 2001 to 55% now. Black African/Caribbean comprise the largest BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) community, but there are also growing numbers of people from the Middle East, including Iraqis, Iranians and Kurds. In addition, there is a sufficiently numerous Polish community as to warrant a substantial Polish Cultural Centre in the middle of town.
The general impression of those living in the borough is that this multi-ethnic mixture generally get along with one another or at least rub along without incident. Even when BNP leader Nick Griffin arrived at the then BBC Television Centre in Shepherd’s Bush a few years ago for his controversial appearance on Question Time there was no discernable deterioration in community relations following the event.
But in the past year something has happened. Metropolitan Police crime statistics showed that at year end 2012 the number of incidents classified as being motivated by race or religious hatred soared by 28% to 315. At the same time neighbouring Kensington & Chelsea witnessed an increase of 25%. The increase over London as a whole was 17%.
The HFRF succeeded in having the increases publicised in the local press, first in the form of a letter to the editor, and then a fully-fledged article. The contrast was made between these startling increases and the fact that, just weeks before, the Hammersmith & Fulham borough police commander chief superintendent Lucy D’Orsi was reporting how safe the area had become, with robbery, vehicle theft, burglary and the likes falling dramatically.
According to the Hammersmith police at the time the only crime that had gone up was domestic violence. No mention was made of the dramatic increase in race and religious hatred, or rape, which are the types of crimes that tend to rise generally during periods of recession and joblessness.
While these stresses are being felt in Hammersmith & Fulham, as the crime statistics suggest, the local authority’s own polling gives a completely different slant. Its survey for 2012 paints a picture of serenity where just about everything is hunky-dory.
The council’s survey, however, is a self-selecting affair. Some 4,000 forms are sent out to residents across the borough and people choose whether or not to respond. Around 990 replied last time and, the council tells us, the results are duly weighted by sex, age, ethnicity and disability “to the known profile of the area.” There is no analysis published, however, as to which views predominated in named wards.
On the topic of social cohesion residents are asked blandly whether their area “is a place where people get on?” In the latest survey 88% agreed that they did, up from 82% the previous year. The crime section makes no mention of racist or religious hatred, and it is perhaps indicative of the sort of people (in age, economic class and ethnicity) who choose to respond to the survey that their major concerns were noisy neighbours and loud parties, rubbish and litter left lying around, and “teenagers hanging about in the streets.”
Returning to the actual crime stats, the local newspaper asked the police to comment on the increase in the race and religious hate crimes. No comment was forthcoming.
The crime stats are compiled on a rolling basis and the March-to-March figures show the Hammersmith & Fulham race and religious hatred figures over that 12-month period at a reduced further rate of increase of 14% (while Kensington & Chelsea has leaped up by a staggering 40%). But a new refinement in the figures causes greater concern. Islamophobic based hatred is identified as a sub-set. The figures are small but the percentage increases significant. In London as a whole 343 such incidents in the year to March 2013 represents a 21% hike, in Kensington & Chelsea they have risen 25%, and in Hammersmith & Fulham a worrying 62% in a borough where one in ten of the population describe themselves as Muslim.
Recession and economics are factors, but so too must be the relentless attacks on immigrants and certain Muslim clerics by the red top tabloid press in whose wake senior politicians attempt to out-tough one another in their quest for votes.
Phil Cooper works at Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum.