HATE crimes against Muslims have risen sharply across the county since the Brexit vote in 2016, The Standard has learnt.

Police figures reveal there were just nine Islamophobic offences in Cheshire in 2013, followed by five in 2014 and 14 in 2015.

But this rocketed to 30 in 2016 before increasing further to 67 in 2017 and dropping slightly to 49 in 2018. [The full statistics, released under the Freedom of Information Act, are included at the end of this article].

This newspaper shared the findings with Chester’s Labour MP Chris Matheson, who blamed the rise on a Brexit campaign that focused on immigration.

Mr Matheson – whose office was daubed in racist and homophobic graffiti in July - also believes US President Donald Trump has helped legitimise intolerance, giving a voice to racists globally.

"These figures speak for themselves and are stark and shocking,” he said. “Much of the pro-Brexit campaigning in the three years leading up to the vote was based on immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

"I believe the far-right have used the Brexit vote and the comments of the racist President Donald Trump as a way to open up the doors to the intolerance and hatred of the past. I won't ever give up on rooting out and defeating this kind of behaviour in our society.

"In Chester we have a relatively small Muslim community, but they play an active role in the life of the city and we must all stand together and defend them."

The Cheshire Stop The War Coalition, which promotes peace and tolerance, was similarly shocked by the figures.

Group chair Helen Rutherford-Gregory said: “The rise in Islamophobic hate crimes across Cheshire is very alarming. We’ve also seen homophobic, far right graffiti daubed on the walls of our MP’s office in the run up to Pride.

“I think it’s wrong to completely attribute this to people’s feelings about the EU referendum but more accurate to look at the atmosphere in general that has been created not just by our leaders but by the President of America.

“Islamophobia makes war in the Middle East more palatable.”

News of the rise in hate crimes in Cheshire comes as numbers of police officers on the country’s streets reach the lowest since 1981.

Home Office statistics show that between March 2010 and March 2018 police forces in England and Wales lost 21,732 officers - a drop of 15 per cent.

The cuts came as part of austerity measures by the Conservative and coalition governments from 2010 in a bid to reduce the deficit.

However, Cheshire Police chiefs point out that the number of Islamophobic crimes fell from 2017 to 2018.

They have also stressed the work that continues to be done to educate people about hate crimes and support victims.

Chief Inspector Louise Cherrington said: “The number of Islamophobia hate crimes appears to be decreasing while we continue to support minority groups and educate young people through our schools about different faiths and communities.

“We also work with local mosques, partner agencies and organisations, making sure residents have the support they need and are reassured that we are committed to keeping all our communities safe.”

Constabulary chiefs would not be drawn on what they believe is behind the clear rise in hate crimes after 2016.

Chief Inspector Cherrington added: “While we continue to educate to prevent incidents arising, we have also done a lot as a force over the years to provide ways for people to report hate crime as we understand it is imperative that victims have the confidence to speak out if they have been subjected to a hate crime, including giving access to a wide range of voluntary organisations and service user groups who provide a third party reporting service for victims and witnesses. We also have trained staff who we can arrange for you to speak to if it would make you feel more comfortable.

“These services offer a safe and comfortable environment and can assist people with reporting a hate crime. They will help you fill in an easy to fill in form on the True Vision website and the police will then use that report to investigate the hate crime thoroughly and make sure the perpetrator is made to face the consequences of their actions.”

The Standard has approached the Chester Mosque and Islamic Centre for a comment on the figures and is awaiting a response.

The full statistics for the county, including a breakdown by borough, are:

2013 - 9 crimes (of which 2 in Cheshire West and Chester, 3 in Cheshire East, 1 in Halton, and 3 in Warrington).

2014 - 5 (CWaC – 4, CE -0, Halt – 0, Warr – 1).

2015 - 14 (CWaC – 6, CE -4, Halt -0, Warr -4).

2016 - 30 (CWaC – 9, CE -13, Halt -2, Warr – 6).

2017 - 67 (CWaC – 15, CE – 28, Halt -4, Warr -20).

2018 - 49 (CWaC – 13, CE – 12, Halt – 5, Warr – 19).