THE verbal attacks on three England football players after the Euro finals appalled the nation.

The young men were vilified by keyboard trolls as much for their race as for missing the penalties.

There was a universal sense of abhorrence to this but hate crime is nothing new.

And behind the catch-all term are thousands of victims, targeted for their disability, race, religion, belief, sexual orientation or gender identity.

There were more than 4,800 hate crime offences in Essex in 2021, up by 27 per cent on this time last year.

Victoria Matthews is a member of the force’s LBGTQ+ network committee.

She says both her and her partner have been abused because of their sexuality.

She said: “I’ve been lucky that I’ve never faced anything too horrific, but my partner has been beaten up for being who she is.

“I’ve had people shout ‘lesbian’ at me, be funny with me in clubs or tell me I’ve just not met the right man.

“When I was younger, I wouldn’t hold hands or be affectionate in public. You get straight couples who feel confident to be kissing and cuddling in public, but I’d be self-conscious doing that.

“If there are a group of lads in the middle of town, I’m more likely to walk separately from my partner so we don’t have to deal with any form of abuse.”

Victoria says changes in the education system and the information available at events like Pride have made people in the LGBTQ+ community more aware of their rights.

She said: “Things have got better as I’ve got older and there are younger people who are having more positive experiences.

“Children are being taught in schools there are differences in the world and when you go to events, you’re given leaflets and told about where you can go if you’re a victim of hate crime.

“Growing up, I wouldn’t have even thought that someone shouting at me is a hate crime.”

Superintendent Richard Melton, Essex Police’s hate crime lead, is encouraged people are increasingly confident to report incidents but believes many victims still don’t contact police.

He wants to reach out to anyone who might see abuse as a way of life.

He said: “We want people to come forward and let us deal with the people that are perpetrating crimes against them.

“It’s wrong and needs to be challenged.

“That information will allow us to identify themes and take targeted action.

“We recognise the problems that hate crime causes and how it can escalate.

“What starts as low-level anti-social behaviour can grow into community tensions.

“Tensions then normalise hatred, the hatred then grows, and we have offences committed by those motivated by hate.

“We’re dealing with problems at a community level and learning every day about how to deal more effectively with hate crime, and we’re becoming more effective at working with the Crown Prosecution Service to get better outcomes for the victims.”

Essex Police has three full-time hate crime officers who support community policing teams.

The force says it is one of only 12 to record if hate offences were motivated by gender or sex.

“Currently there are only five protected characteristics, but it’s expected that number will increase,” said Supt Melton.

“So we’ve made the decision to record crimes that would constitute a hate crime motivated by gender or sex.

“This will help us to truly understand the level of violence, abuse and intimidation against women and girls; where it’s happening, who it’s happening to and who the perpetrators are.

“We’re getting on the front foot to make sure we learn the lessons from high-profile cases.

Victims of hate crime can report incidents online by dialling 101 or 999 in an emergency.