PLANS to tackle hate crime have been launched at a school.

Students at The Hermitage Academy, in Chester-le-Street, were visited by County Durham Police, Crime and Victims Commissioner, Ron Hogg.

The former police officer chatted to youngsters and outlined his vision for combatting crimes against people based on prejudice.

Mr Hogg said: “Hate Crime is very unpleasant and can be very traumatic for anyone who experiences it.

“It’s different from so many other types of crime and incidents because it’s so personal.

“People are victimised because of who they are, and what they are perceived to be rather than because of something that they’ve done.”

The launch coincides with national Hate Crime Awareness Week and the plan has been developed by organisations such as Durham Constabulary, Durham County Council, Darlington Borough Council, Durham University.

Pupils have been learning about hate crime, how to identify it, and the best way to address it.

Caroline West, faculty lead for Humanities at the Hermitage Academy, was joined by former students Sarah Taylor and Georgie Hunter, both now 18 and studying history at Newcastle University.

Mr Hogg said: “The number of hate crimes which are reported to the police has grown by about a quarter over the past four years.

“You might think that’s a bad thing, but I think it also reflects that people are more prepared than they used to be to report hate crimes to the police.

“That’s really important. If you are a victim of hate crime, or witness a hate crime, don’t suffer alone: tell someone who can help you.”

The plan involves developing a multi-agency communications strategy, including the message that there should be zero-tolerance of hate crime, as well as well as a review of how hate crime is reported.

There will be a review of how organisations share intelligence and how evidence is used to ensure prosecutions along with support available for victims.

Efforts will also be made to develop a deeper understanding the issue of hate crimes are affecting disabled people.

Police figures obtained by the charity United Response show recorded disability hate crimes have surged 33 per cent across England and Wales in the past year.

Crimes recorded as ‘violence against the person’ were the most common, which includes physical assault, stalking, harassment and malicious communications.

Cases of fraud saw the biggest rise while sexual offences have more than doubled nationally since 2016-17.

Three-quarters of police forces which provided Freedom of Information data ahead of this year’s National Hate Crime Awareness Week saw increases in disability hate crimes.

Disability charity United Response is now training staff to help victims spot the signs and is also calling on more victims to come forward.

Joanne Silkstone, United Response hate crime lead, said: “It beggars belief that that there are people out there who are targeting some of society’s most vulnerable people and doing them harm.

“This is unacceptable and we all must do everything we can to empower those who suffer this type of appalling abuse and discrimination to speak out.”