Hate Crime and Me – Graham Lewis

Posted on

Graham Lewis’s Final Speech as Chair and Trustee of Stop Hate UK at the charity's Annual General Meeting

This isn’t quite the speech I intended to be making today.  Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was asked what was most likely to blow Governments off course, it is alleged that he said “events, dear boy, events” – although this quote is disputed.

I had written my speech, and then Nazir Afzal OBE, former Chief Crown Prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service in the Northwest, published his report ‘Independent Culture Review of London Fire Brigade’ which found the service to be “institutionally misogynist and racist”.

This took me right back.

The Macpherson Report 1999 into the death and subsequent investigation of Stephen Lawrence on 22nd April 1993. The report concluded that the investigation had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership”.

But it took me further back than that, to when I entered secondary school.

I was subjected to bullying – sometimes it was name calling, pushing and other times being thumped or beaten up.

My school denied there was a problem with bullying but that I was accident prone due to arthritis (which is true but not to that extent). When I was beaten up in front of a teacher, the school had no choice but to suspend the attacker for two weeks.  My school operated a house system, so my attacker was back two days later as it was sports day, and he was needed by the house to take part in races which he was known to be good at. Taught me a lot more than it taught him, didn’t it?

So back to the speech I intended.

In summer of 2000 I had been to the pub on a Saturday night.  When I was walking home from the pub, I was called a homophobic slur and beaten up. I ended up with a black eye, bruised ear and face, bloody nose, cut lip and bruises on the body. I went home, took paracetamol, and went to bed.  The next morning, I messaged a friend who came over, supported me to go the police station and report what had happened.  We then went back to the pub I as they did a good Sunday Roast. Pub staff and customers were concerned for what had happened to me.

The following weekend, I went back to the pub and discovered that it felt like everyone knew what had happened.  Only the extent of my injuries had been exaggerated and I had been admitted to Intensive Care at Addenbrookes Hospital. When I started to learn more about Hate Crime, I realised that this was the ‘ripple effect’ on the community and that what happened to me was felt by many others on a very personal level.

I’ve always believed that we should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves, and we cannot stand by and let bad things happen.

Since the late 1990’s I had been an activist in campaigning for gay rights and in terms of HIV/AIDS and support to those affected by it.  I was invited by Cambridgeshire Police to join their LGBT liaison group.  This group worked to raise awareness of a local third-party reporting system where people could report things via libraries and community centres etc.  At the time, Cambridgeshire Police were having Officers of all ranks attend Equality and Diversity Training.  I, and people from other communities such as Hindu and Muslim people, attended these trainings and we had a session where we talked about our communities and issues relating to the police etc.  We encouraged officers to ask any question they wanted, no such things as a stupid question.  We knew that by being open and honest we would raise awareness of issues in the communities and get correct information percolating through the officers thinking.

In 2004 I joined Victim Support as a National Service Manager managing their ‘Supportline’, a service for people affected by crime to access information and support. I delivered Hate Crime training to our helpline staff and volunteers, as well as colleagues around the country.  Victim Support asked me to represent them on the Home Office Racist Incident Group, which was tasked with implementing recommendations from the Macpherson Report. They asked me to lead a subgroup to implement recommendation 16 – an independent third-party reporting service.

This is how, in 2006, I met Rose, the CEO of a Leeds area charity which had been commissioned to deliver the pilot project of a 24/7 helpline third-party reporting service. 

Rose and I got on well and were able to talk through any issues as they arose, I was more a listening ear as Rose talked through the issue and formulated a solution and plan to move forward.

At the end of 2013 I was leaving Victim Support, so contacted Rose to let her know. That resulted in a series of conversations about being a Trustee. I joined the Board in 2014 and became Chair in 2015.

Whilst I have been Chair the Board has:

  • Updated its governing document
  • Improved the reporting structure to the Board
  • Developed better systems to understand the skill base of the trustees, their training and development needs and mentoring for new trustees.
  • Regularly refreshed and updated the strategic plan; identifying new areas and ways of working to fulfil our Mission
  • New Fundraising Strategy which has resulted in significant improvements in both Corporate and Individual Supporter donations

As Chair I have a number of highlights:

  • Spoke at St Paul’s Cathedral in London at the launch of National Hate Crime Awareness Week
  • Chaired the Capita Tackling Hate Crime Conference in 2016
  • Organised and chaired a Cambridge Festival of Ideas lecture ‘Time to stop the hate’ in 2019
  • Worked with amazing Trustee’s, Staff and Volunteers
  • Talking with Rose on a regular basis

Since 2014, I have also been involved in issues around hate crime in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

I was invited to join the Cambridgeshire Police Hate Crime Advisory Group. Providing a link to both the community of people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community. But also giving feedback to the Police on the steps they took to manage and investigate incidents.

In 2017, I was at the ‘Big Weekend’ on Parkers Piece in Cambridge.  I was subjected to a barrage of verbal homophobic abuse by a man who was definitely ‘in drink’.  I reported this to the Police, through an online system, and got a phone call back from a senior officer to talk it over with me, make sure I was okay and tell me that my report had been allocated to an officer to investigate.  I felt really supported to give a full statement and the next steps were discussed with me. The Officer told me when he was going to get back in touch to update me, which he did.

In 2020, following feedback from people with disabilities about hate crime, I was asked by my employer, Healthwatch, to organise a Roundtable discussion event as part of National Hate Crime Awareness Week.  This was attended by people with disabilities, social care, Police and the Police and Crime Commissioner.  This led to the Commissioner taking an issue to the Minister of Crime and Policing that was causing distress to part of the community but when they reported it to the Police was found that the issue falls outside of the hate crime and any other laws.

Clearly, from the verbal assault in 2017 that happened to me, the way people from EU were treated after the referendum in 2016, or Southeast Asian people about Covid-19 through to this weekend’s report into London Fire Brigade, there is some way to go before Stop Hate UK can say ‘job done’.

Although my time as Chair and Trustee of Stop Hate UK has come to an end, my commitment to Stop Hate UK and raising awareness of hate crime, and support for those who are affected by hate, in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and throughout the UK will also continue in the future.

Thank you Graham for your service to the Charity and your continued support to create a hate-free world.