Hampshire Constabulary was one of three forces in England and Wales that offered people accused of committing hate offences the chance to avoid prosecution by attending a two-hour educational session.
The schemes, which are paid for out of a Police and Crime Commissioner’s (PCC’s) budget, are part of a restorative justice strategy that encourages criminals to take responsibility for their actions.
Ending the contract
But now Donna Jones, PCC for Hampshire, has announced she is ending the contract with the company that runs the scheme, following controversy over a case in which an army veteran was arrested for re-tweeting a a picture of a swastika made out of gay pride flags.
The 51-year-old was informed by officers he could avoid prosecution if he admitted the offence and agreed to go on the course, before they had even carried out an investigation.
After being arrested he was released under investigation and subsequently informed there would be no further action.
A spokesman for Hampshire Constabulary said: “We can confirm that officers explained that the hate-crime awareness course would be offered as an alternative to prosecution, in the event that the alleged offence was admitted.”
Critics have previously expressed concern that hate-crime awareness courses are being used inappropriately and could be deployed in order to challenge a person’s legitimately held political beliefs, especially around gender-critical issues.
Because the schemes are operated as part of the ‘out-of-court disposal’ system, they can only be offered as an option once an investigation is complete and it is deemed the suspect has committed an offence.
Alternative to investigation
But with the number of hate-crime incidents being reported to the police soaring, it is feared they are instead being offered as an alternative to an investigation.
There is also concern that the courses will be offered in so-called ‘non-crime hate incidents’, which are recorded by police but do not require any action.
Harry Miller, a former police officer who recently won a High Court case against the College of Policing over the way alleged non-hate crime incidents are recorded, said the courses were deeply worrying.
He said: “This is all about re-education and indoctrination. It has nothing to do with resolving matters between victims and suspects.”
‘Will no longer be offered’
Ms Jones said having reviewed the way the courses were being offered by her force, she had decided to withdraw their use.
She told The Telegraph: “I inherited a restorative justice contract when I was elected into office last year and the restorative hate-crime awareness course was part of that.
“I have decided that this hate-crime awareness course will no longer be offered in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight by way of a community resolution option. The change needs to be planned properly but will take place in the coming weeks.
“In saying this, I want to be clear that when someone has been targeted and suffered violence or abuse because of their protected characteristics, and the incident reaches the evidential threshold for a hate crime, perpetrators can expect police action. This is vital.
“Other restorative justice and community resolution provision will still be in place for police to utilise for serious hate crimes and other incidents, but only where appropriate.”
‘Used in the right way’
She added: “As victims lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, I am a supporter of restorative justice and community resolution programmes for crimes that can be resolved outside of the court environment. They are very effective for a whole range of crimes and they help improve outcomes for victims of crime and change perpetrator behaviour. However, I want them to be used in the right way.”
Attendance on the hate-crime awareness scheme is voluntary and the culprit may be forced to confront their victim in order to understand the impact of their actions.
The courses, which are run by an organisation called Restorative Solutions, are currently being offered by forces in Hampshire, North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.