People who carry out hate crimes on the London Underground rarely end up being charged or arrested, leaving thousands of victims without justice, VICE World News can reveal.
On average, only 10 percent of hate crimes reported to the British Transport Police (BTP) – the policing body that covers London’s large network of trains, tubes and trams – resulted in a charge or summons, new data shows.
While BTP says this figure is only slightly lower than the national average, campaigners fear a lack of prioritisation is leaving the public unprotected despite extensive CCTV networks.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by VICE World News found that over the last four years, 4,795 hate crimes on the tube and overground network in London were reported to BTP. Between 2018 and 2021, on average only 10 percent of those incidents resulted in a charge or summons relating to the hate crime. In 2021, it was as low as 7 percent.
Home Office data for the 12 months ending March 2021 shows an average of 11.6 percent of hate crimes in Britain resulted in charges or give a court summons, well above the 7 percent on London tube and trains in 2021.
The numbers are surprisingly low given the thousands of cameras that survey London’s transport network.
Hate crimes are classified as any crime where the victim has been targeted because of their race, sexuality, religion, disability or trans identity.
Thousands of victims subject to racially aggravated attacks, robberies and harassment will never find justice, this data shows. Even if crimes eventually result in charges, this does not guarantee they will result in convictions.
Victims of these incidents say not enough is being done to investigate the crimes, with poor CCTV networks impacting the success of investigations.
In 2021, only 7 percent of incidents resulted in charges or summons – of 1,027 hate crimes that were reported, only 69 so far have resulted in charges or summons.
2019 had the second lowest percentage of incidents where victims saw their perpetrator charged. Of the 1,433 hate crimes reported in 2019, only 120 resulted in charges or a summons.
The most charges were issued in 2018, with 165 handed out across London's transport network, equivalent to 11 percent of all reported crimes
Arrest figures were also low. In 2018, 13 percent of hate crimes on London tubes and overground trains resulted in arrests. In 2019, 2020 and 2021, only 10 percent resulted in arrests.
The London Underground alone has over 90,000 cameras, making it one of the most highly surveilled areas in the city. Despite this, VICE World News has spoken to victims of hate crimes who have said CCTV footage has been lost or faulty, and hindered their ability to take their perpetrators to court – which may contribute to low charge and arrest figures.
While security experts say CCTV can be a useful tool in investigating cases of crime, tubes and stations in London don’t always use the same technology, meaning they can be out-of-date and faulty, resulting in thousands of lost files and videos. Police are not responsible for the maintenance of CCTV networks, instead this is left to the train operating companies who own the stations and trains.
Bertie Darrell, 28, a playwright living in London, was the victim of a homophobic attack on a London Overground train in September 2020. He was harassed, repeatedly called a “fucking f****t” and kicked in the face. A failure to secure usable CCTV footage by BTP meant the perpetrator was never found.
“I felt really shaken up directly afterwards and I felt very anxious,” Darrell told VICE World News. “It reminds you in such a forceful and violent way that you are vulnerable because of something so simple as your sexuality or your queer identity.”
Darrell reported the incident immediately, and says he was told by British Transport Police that the investigation could commence once the CCTV footage from the train in south east London was received, which could take three weeks. Four weeks later, after Darrell followed up, he was informed they had collected the CCTV footage but that it was faulty and that faulty footage was normal. He enquired about a backup, but he was informed by British Transport Police that backups are deleted after seven days. Darrell also requested platform footage, which he was told expires after 28 days.
Eventually, police searched footage from outside of the station, but as the perpetrator was wearing a mask, they said that it could not be used. Despite following up with police several times – including asking them to do a social media call out where they used incorrect information – the investigation was dropped due to insufficient evidence and the attacker has never been charged.
Darrell said his experience illustrated why many hate crimes against LGBTQ people often do not get reported. “Given the kind of reluctance from the police to actually press these matters further, it doesn't exactly instil you with confidence,” he said. “Why would you want to report it? If this is basically how you're treated?”
Darrell says the attack has changed him. “It does separate you from your previous self in some way,” he said. “Before the incident happened. I definitely felt a lot more carefree, really fearless. And then it just makes you more fearful.”
Other victims of hate crimes have told VICE World News they have had similar experiences.
Haya M Turkey, 30, a producer living in London was harassed and attacked on a London underground Tube in December 2021. Turkey had come to the UK as an asylum seeker and was returning from work in north London when the incident took place.
“[The woman] hit me and started saying, ‘Go back to your country, why did you come here?” Turkey told VICE World News.
After the assault, Turkey got off the Tube at Charing Cross station in central London and said she asked staff to speak to the police, but was told that there were none on duty because it was a bank holiday.
She eventually was able to report the incident to British Transport Police, including details about the bag the woman was carrying. She was told they would check the CCTV for the station and was later told that the CCTV was not available after 14 days. Turkey says she had been emailing the police before then but only got a reply on the 15th day.
For a month after the incident, Turkey was too scared to take public transport to work, and took expensive taxis instead.
“After the incident, I wasn't able to use the train,” said Turkey. “It gave me a lot of flashbacks.”
Turkey’s incident took place on the Bakerloo line, which is only one of two Tube lines in London without CCTV cameras on the carriages.
Dr Matt Ashby, a lecturer in Crime Science at UCL Department of Security and Crime Science told VICE World News that CCTV failures, while rare, can still result in thousands of victims losing essential footage.
“CCTV not being helpful to an investigation because the system has failed doesn't happen very often,” said Ashby. “Over the five years that I looked at the data, it was about 6000 crimes of every type. But that is still 6000 victims whose cases haven't been able to be solved because CCTV was faulty.”
Various reasons may impact why these crimes never end up going to court, says Ashby.
“It's possible that [BTP] are really doing the best job they can do,” he said. “But it's also possible that those cases are being closed because they're not the resources to investigate them, or there are not resources to investigate them as fully as they could be. It's possible that might be due to a national shortage of detectives.”
Responding to VICE World News’ data, Ashby said: “If I were [British Transport Police]. I would look at that number and try to try to dig into why it's not higher.”
A BTP spokesperson told VICE World News: “Preventing and tackling hate crime is a BTP priority – no one should be subjected to
violence or harassment because of who they are.”
“We conduct highly visible patrols and dedicated operations across the railway to ensure the safety and security of passengers and staff. Our officers are ready to respond to incidents of hate crime immediately, and with access to more than 150,000 CCTV cameras across the rail network they can quickly identify offenders and make arrests.”
The spokesperson added: “It is important to contextualise that we are unique in policing a national and transient population, meaning that in many cases the offender and victim are not known to one another. We therefore encourage victims of, or witnesses to, hate crime to report incidents to us promptly so our detectives can secure CCTV footage and vital evidence to present cases to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision.”
Sasha Misra, associate director of communications and campaigns at LGBTQ rights organisation Stonewall said: “These worrying figures show that the hate that LGBTQ+ people face while going about their daily lives is still not taken seriously. London's transport system should have adequate systems to record vital evidence of hate crimes taking place, and it is vital that victims and survivors are not let down by the justice system.
“We already know that four in five (81 per cent) of LGBTQ+ people already do not report hate incidents to the police and these statistics demonstrate why so many LGBTQ+ people feel disempowered to seek help. It’s vital that real reforms are now made to ensure that LGBTQ+ people are safe and free to live their lives as themselves.”
Kevin Blowe from police monitoring website Netpol told VICE World News these numbers show the police are failing to protect the public.
“The staggeringly low rate of charging for hate crimes cannot simply derive from the lack of evidence or resources, it's about priorities,” he said.
“Hate crime across society has been growing every year for the last decade. BTP has clearly decided not to prioritise it,” said Blowe. “The public has a right to travel without facing hatred. It would appear from these statistics, however, that the police cannot protect us.”