REPORTS of racist hate crimes increased last year in East Lancashire after falling steadily for the three years previously.

There were 770 recorded incidents in 2013, down from 666 in 2012.

Numbers of recorded hate crimes had been in decline, dropping from 1,073 in 2009.

Racially and religiously aggravated assaults without injury saw the biggest increase, rising from 32 in 2012, to 41 in 2013, across Pennine and Eastern divisions.

General ‘racist incidents’ also increased from 370 to 410 over the same period.

But hate crime campaigners have welcomed the figures, saying that they represent a growing recognition of ratially motivated crimes.

Sylvia Lancaster, founder of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, which encourages victims to report hate crimes to police, said: “I think it’s a good thing, more people are recognising what a hate crime actually is.

“And when crimes are reported police have a better picture and are seeing them as hate crimes, and that’s got to be a positive step.”

Sylvia, who sits on the government’s independent hate crime advisory board, said she expects the figures will continue to rise.

She said: “We know that hate crime is under-reported by a third and if more people recognise that they have suffered a hate crime, they will be reported as such, and the figures will continue to rise.

”I think it’s encouraging that they’ve gone up. It doesn’t mean hate crimes have gone up, it means police are seeing them as hate crimes, and that’s a positive.” Haslingden and Hyndburn MP Graham Jones, who has also campaigned about the issue of hate crime, said: “I’m not convinced they show that there’s a rise in hate crime.

“It could be that the police are reporting more, that more people are coming forward.”