The London boroughs where homophobic crime is rising
Peter Tatchell tells the Spy the Clapham attack was "shocking but not surprising"
Afternoon — among those shocked but not surprised by the homophobic attack in Clapham last weekend was LGBTQ+ activist Peter Tatchell. He tells the Spy London is never totally safe for the queer community — and we’ve uncovered the data that shows where reported hate crime is rising in the capital. That’s after your Friday briefing below.
Plus: scandal at the museum, more TikTok invasions, and a London tree of the year.
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What we’ve spied
😬 Condolences to whoever takes over as director of the British Museum next year, as they’ll be walking into an almighty mess. This week it was revealed that a museum staff member has been sacked after treasures were reported "missing, stolen or damaged". The staff member was later named by the Telegraph as Peter Higgs, a senior curator who’s worked there 30 years, but his family say he’s innocent. Police are now investigating the incident after items including gold, jewellery and gems went missing from the museum. The items in question dated all the way back to the 15th Century BC and were being kept in a store room for academic and research purposes. No arrests have currently been made, but the museum says it’s planning legal action. It’s quite the situation for departing director Hartwig Fischer to leave behind — he’s stepping down next year. The debacle is only one of two bad headlines for the London museum as of late, following a tourist being stabbed outside on Great Russell Street on August 8.
💨 The disposable vape manufacturer Elf Bar is being accused of “greenwashing” after running ads across London about recycling, despite the fact its vapes are practically impossible to recycle. The bus ads, which display Elf Bars next to big text stating “recycling for a greener future”, have been described by Greenpeace as a "blatant attempt to bath an environmental menace in a thin veneer of greenwash". The news comes just after the Local Government Association, which represents councils, including those in London, called for a total ban on disposable vapes, citing their appeal to children and bin fires. Related but cursed: the bins covered in vape stickers that are cropping up around London.
📷 Vandalising London’s traffic measures is apparently all the rage at the moment. First, the Guardian reported on Wednesday that the capital’s councils have forked out £850,000 since 2020 to fix cut cables, knocked-over cameras and smashed bollards meant to be enforcing low-traffic neighbourhoods. Hackney had the biggest bill, with the council paying almost £400,000 to repair the borough’s schemes that advocates say cut air pollution and make roads safer. Then on Friday the BBC revealed more than 300 cameras installed for London’s ultra-low emissions zone have been vandalised or damaged between April and mid-August. In fact this week we learnt the name of one of the vandalism groups — the ‘Blade Runners’, who in their latest filmed exploit can be seen sabotaging a camera using a tree lopper.
💰 Big spenders from abroad are shunning London’s casinos and luxury shops, say businesses calling for the end of the UK’s “tourist tax”. The head of the big British casino chain Rank Group, which operates Grosvenor Casinos, has said high-rollers from the Middle East are being put off long gambling trips in the capital by a lack of tax-free shopping, after the government scrapped VAT exemption for tourists in 2021. His comments follow similar calls on Monday from luxury boutiques and retailers in the West End, who say tourists are heading to Paris and Milan instead. Elsewhere in wealth news — London’s top earners are enjoying notably high-income growth, according to recent research from Institute for Fiscal Studies, but middle earners aren’t. As a result London’s income inequality has increased since the pandemic, the IFS finds.
🤳 There’s been no shortage of think pieces about the future of Oxford Street, after last week’s TikTok invasion. And it seems the craze is spreading elsewhere in the capital. Bexleyheath high street in south London was locked down this weekend due to fears of more social media-fuelled looting. Broadway Shopping Centre ramped up security after rumours it would become the next target of mass high-street looting campaigns on TikTok. A letter from management to stores said: “We are aware of social media speculation about an event advertised to take place in the Bexleyheath area. If you see any activity outside that concerns you then we would encourage you to close your doors until the trouble subsides”. And just when security guards on Oxford Street were starting to relax, Thursday saw another rumour of disruption, with the Met ramping up its police presence to match.
🚇 A new historic tour will open up parts of Baker Street tube station that have been hidden from the public for decades. Opened in 1863, it’s one of oldest tube stations in the city — and indeed the world. For £44 per person you can expect to see secret tunnels, vintage posters, disused lift shafts and ancient underground loos (and if you were wondering how they handled subterranean plumbing in the 1800s — they didn’t, the pipes flushed straight onto the tracks). The tour is being run by Hidden London in partnership with the London Transport Museum, and will take place on selected dates from September to December. You can buy tickets here.
🚽 And while we’re on the subject of loos in the transport network: more might be coming to stations across the city. A long-awaited loo report reviewing options for the installation of new toilets within the transport network will be released in “in the coming weeks”. The review comes after years of campaigning form politicians and groups like Age UK, who ran a campaign called London Loos.
🎶 Not long now till this year’s Notting Hill Carnival, with a big name performer just announced: reggae star Shaggy. This year's event, which kicks off on the upcoming August bank holiday weekend, will be celebrating the Windrush Generation and 50 years of Mas and Sound Systems. It’s also had a successful export this week — one of the first female DJs at Notting Hill carnival, Linett Kamala, is setting up a mentoring scheme to get more women into the scene. She said: “Women have paved the way within Carnival culture in the UK since it began, in fact, Notting Hill Carnival was founded by a female community activist, Rhaune Laslett in 1966. Yet, within sound system culture we still see a disparity between men and women when it comes to opportunities and exposure, as the leading figures are predominantly male.”
🗳️ A few politics bits: first, the Lib Dems have picked their candidate for next year’s mayoral election. Rob Blackie is a digital marketer working for start-ups who served as the party’s then-leader Charles Kennedy’s director of research during the Iraq War. Meanwhile six-time Tory mayoral hopeful Andrew Boff has announced he’s running to stand for the Conservatives as an MP candidate in Dagenham and Rainham, one of the UK’s most marginal constituencies. Less positive news for one-time Tory mayoral Daniel Korski, who’s had three more women allege misconduct, following him pulling out of this year’s race after a groping allegation.
🌳 Finally: a 360-year-old sweet chestnut tree in London has made the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year shortlist. It’s in Greenwich Park and is admired for its twisted trunk and branches.
“Shocking but not surprising”
As police continue to hunt the man who stabbed two people outside a popular gay bar in Clapham on Sunday, some wonder if officers missed a chance at a head start.
Prominent LGBTQ+ activist Peter Tatchell has told the Spy the attack may have been prevented if police had swiftly dealt with a previous incident outside the Two Brewers just a week earlier.
Meanwhile, official hate crime reports analysed by the Spy show recorded homophobic offences are now at a five-year high across Clapham’s borough, Lambeth, as well as eight other London boroughs.
The Met is still attempting to identify the Clapham attacker and this week released CCTV images taken on a bus around two hours before he attacked the two men outside the Two Brewers at 10.15pm on Sunday, August 13.
The attacker had approached the men, in their 20s and 30s, with a knife in the venue’s smoking area and wounded them. Though the attacker escaped, witnesses have praised the fast response of security at the club, who “dramatically shut” the doors of the venue during the attack to stop panic, as well as the quick arrival of police to the scene.
The two victims were taken to hospital, but their injuries weren’t life-threatening and they were later discharged.
Nonetheless, the attack has left a sense of anxiety in Clapham’s LGBTQ+ community and patrons of the Two Brewers. Locals have told PinkNews their “second home was attacked” and despair that the incident took place in Clapham, considered one of London’s safest spaces for queer people.
But Tatchell, director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, says the Clapham stabbing is “shocking but not surprising”.
He told the Spy: “Similar attacks happen quite often, even in London. LGBTs are never totally safe. The Clapham assault is just the latest.
“Indeed, there was a previous attack outside the Two Brewers just a week before the most recent stabbing and the police are accused of not taking it seriously. If they had acted swiftly, the second assault may have been prevented.”
The incident Tatchell is referring to involved a man being assaulted by another man on Clapham High Street around 4.20am on Sunday, August 6.
The victim, in his 30s, told officers at the scene he had been punched by an unknown man who had left the scene.
When approached with Tatchell’s comments, the Met said there was no link between this prior incident and last Sunday’s homophobic attack.
The force also said the victim did not know why he had been attacked.
What’s clear though is that more homophobic hate crime is now landing on the desks of London’s police, with data published by the Met showing a significant rise in reports across the city in the past five years.
Hate crime is defined by the Home Office as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic” — sexual orientation, in the case of homophobic hate crime.
In Lambeth specifically, Clapham’s wider borough, recorded homophobic hate crime has been rising each year since the start of the Met’s records in 2018 and is now at a five-year high.
Spy analysis of the Met’s monthly crime dashboard shows 293 homophobic offences were recorded in the borough in the 12 months to July 2023.
That’s a rise from the 286 offences recorded in the previous year, and significantly up on 185 offences recorded in the year ending July 2019.
Most of this year’s homophobic offences in Lambeth were recorded in Brixton Town Centre, 58, followed by Vauxhall, at 47. Clapham Town was third with 35 offences.
The 2021 census in England found there were 14,000 people living in Lambeth who identify as gay or lesbian — so the figures suggest one in fifty in the borough could have been the victim of a homophobic criminal offence in the past year.
Some caution is needed with these figures, though, as hate crime statistics are affected by wider trends in police trust and data collection.
Mark Walters, a professor in criminal law and criminology at the University of Sussex, told the Spy: “The continued rise in reported cases reflects a number of factors, including more individuals coming forward to report offences and improved recording practices.
“However, there is also evidence from a range of sources that suggests anti-LGBTQ+ hostilities have increased over recent years, both online and offline. The current political climate is certainly exacerbating prejudices expressed towards LGBTQ+ people.”
Lambeth is not the only part of London with a rise in reports in the past year. The other eight boroughs where homophobic offences are at a five-year high are Barnet, Bexley, Camden, Ealing, Greenwich, Havering, Hillingdon and Lewisham.
Rises are relatively higher in the outer London boroughs, with annual homophobic offences doubling since 2018 in Barnet (47 to 94), Bexley (38 to 79), Havering (31 to 79) and Hillingdon (30 to 69).
Central boroughs are also seeing significant jumps — 146 to 193 in Camden and 73 to 132 in Greenwich.
Across the entirety of London, there were 3,437 homophobic hate crime offences recorded by the Met in the year to July 2023.
It’s a slight fall on 2022 — the first full year after Covid lockdowns — when there were 3,824 offences, but the figure is still practically 1,000 more than the 2,536 seen before the pandemic in 2019. That’s an extra three offences a day.
Indeed all but five of the capital’s boroughs are recording more homophobic hate crimes each year than before the pandemic.
In one of the biggest rises, Islington has seen annual homophobic offences rise from 95 in the year up to July 2019 to 184 in the year to July 2023.
The exceptions are Southwark, Bromley, Kingston upon Thames, Richmond upon Thames and Merton, where annual homophobic offences are down compared to 2019.
In terms of sheer volume, most homophobic crimes in London are recorded in the borough of Westminster, with 350 offences in the past year. Half of these offences were recorded in the West End neighbourhood policing area, which covers Soho, another popular area with the queer community.
The rise in the number of reported crimes comes against a backdrop of attempts by the Met to repair its relationship with the queer community.
Following the Casey Review earlier this year, which found the Met to be institutionally homophobic, Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley wrote a letter to Tatchell apologising for the force’s past failings.
Tatchell explained: “There is a high level of LGBT+ distrust of the police due to their past homophobic witch-hunts and persecution. Police apologies like that of the Met Police Commissioner in June are key to rebuilding trust and giving LGBTs confidence to report hate crimes.
“The Met is making a good start with the recent appointment across London of full-time LGBT+ Community Liaison Officers who know and work with local LGBT+ organisations. This will hopefully help improve police — LGBT+ relations and ensure stronger, more effective action against anti-LGBT+ hate crimes.”
Mayor Sadiq Khan was among those condemning the Clapham attack, vowing to “stamp out” hate crime in London and hitting out at those that are ‘stoking up’ a homophobic culture war.
It was perhaps a reference to recent drag queen story hour protests that have taken place in London, in which some have branded performers as “groomers” or “perverts”.
In a sign of City Hall’s commitment, Khan’s night czar Amy Lamé, who’s responsible for London’s night time economy, attended an emergency meeting of the London LGBTQI+ Venues Forum on Thursday in the wake of the attack.
Yet, in the view of those the Spy spoke to, the problem is also the responsibility of the central UK government, not just City Hall.
Tatchell said: “For three years, the government has had no hate crime strategy. It has let down not only LGBTs, but also vulnerable women, black, Asian, Muslim and Jewish people.”
That was also echoed by Walters, who said: “I am particularly disappointed to have recently found out that the Home Office will no longer be publishing a Hate Crime Action Plan that used to sets out the government’s strategy to tackle the issue.”
The Met’s inquiries into the Clapham attack are still ongoing and the lead detective for the investigation Jivan Saib has called on the public to examine the CCTV images.
"I would urge people to look at these images - do you know this man? Do you recognise the clothes he is wearing?" he said in the latest appeal on Wednesday. "If you can help identify him then please get in touch."
One of the victims took to social media in the wake of the attack, offering a message of thanks for the support he’d received.
He said: “What today has strengthened in me more than ever before is that I could never, and have never be prouder, happier, or more comforted by the community I am lucky enough to have as my LGBTQ+ family.”
“I would NEVER change it for the world.”
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