PARALYMPIC gold medallist Stephen Miller joined senior police officers and anti-racism campaigners to raise awareness of hate crime in the region.
The seminar was organised by Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg to give representatives the chance to talk about what more can be done to tackle crimes motivated by factors such as racism and homophobia.
These crimes often go unreported due to the isolation experienced by victims or through fear of reprisals.
Mr Hogg said that tackling hate crime was one of his priorities for Darlington and County Durham and he praised the work that has been done to address the issue since last year’s seminar.
He said a heightened focus on hate crimes amongst Durham Constabulary officers has led to an increase in both the reporting and detection of such crimes.
Mr Hogg added: “The feedback is that there is a greater confidence among those vulnerable communities to tell the police (about hate crimes).
“They feel that they are going to get a better response, that their problems are going to be listened to and dealt with.”
Speaking at the seminar, at the Dolphin Centre in Darlington, Paralympic club thrower Stephen Miller, who has cerebral palsy, spoke of the challenges he had to overcome to become a world class athlete.
He proudly showed off his gold, silver and bronze Paralympic medals and said it was important to treat each other as equals.
“It is about respect, and getting that message across,” he said. “To not be scared of people who are a bit different, who look a bit different or move a bit funny or talk a bit funny; it is about embracing that, embracing what is different and celebrating diversity.”
The seminar included presentations from representatives of the Whitley Bay-founded charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC).
Former Newcastle and Ireland footballer John Anderson described the anti-Irish insults he endured when he came to England as a teenager in the 1970s and Lizz Bennett of SRtRC gave some shocking examples of racism she had encountered when schoolchildren are asked how they really felt about other nationalities.
The charity has worked throughout County Durham but now intends to work with schools in Darlington for the first time.
The seminar also saw the launch of a new Community Hands scheme for County Durham and Darlington.
The initiative aims to recruit community volunteers to be a local confidential point of contact for anyone suffering from hate crime.