HATE crime in the county has more than doubled in the past five years, figures show.

And community leaders fear even that could be the tip of the iceberg, with many incidents potentially going unreported.

Wiltshire Police said the rise reflected more people coming forward to log crimes linked to race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and gender. Force lead for the issue Supt Mark Calland said: “There is never any excuse for hate crime.”

The latest Home Office figures published yesterday showed the overall number of hate crimes recorded by the Wiltshire force rose from 295 in 2014/15 to 679 last year.

Offences associated with transgender victims have seen on e of the most significant increases – from three to 26 in 2018/19. Crimes motivated by sexual orientation doubled in a year from 55 to 102.

Hate crimes linked to disability have also spiralled. In 2014/15 there were 10 such reports to Wiltshire Police. Last year there were 70.

There were 487 race crime reports, up from 442 the previous year. Hate crimes linked to religion were down - but still low with just 26 reports.

Putting a positive spin on the increase, Wiltshire Police’s Mark Calland said: "I see the increase in part as a positive as it shows more and more people are aware of what hate crime is and are coming forward to report it.

“For example, historically the number of reported hate crimes against someone's sexual orientation were very low. As you can see we are seeing an increase - this being an indication that more people are now reporting it.

"We want everyone to have the confidence to report these types of crimes and keep reporting them. There is never any excuse for hate crime. As a force we take all reports seriously and will respond robustly to anyone committing these crimes.

"Our message is that we will pursue and prosecute anyone where there's evidence that this type of frightening and distressing crime has been committed."

Wiltshire and Swindon Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson added: "We all need to work together to stop hate crime - please report it if you are a victim or you know someone who has been targeted. The police will take you seriously."

Coun Junab Ali was Swindon’s first Bangladeshi mayor and represents the town on the Wiltshire police and crime panel.

“Myself and other members of the police and crime panel have kept our eyes on hate crime,” he said.

He said many people didn’t bother reporting incidents to the police: “I would urge more people to report things. Unless we know, we can’t hold the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner to account.”