A new national police hub will be set up to crack down on trolls posting hate crime online, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced.
Run by specialist officers, the hub will assess if complaints amount to a crime, work to identify perpetrators and, where appropriate, recommend the removal of hateful material to online platforms.
It will also clarify the force responsible for further action in each case.
The move is part of a drive to improve support for victims and increase prosecutions of trolls who abuse others online over their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity.
Ms Rudd said: “What is illegal offline is illegal online, and those who commit these cowardly crimes should be met with the full force of the law.
“The national online hate crime hub that we are funding is an important step to ensure more victims have the confidence to come forward and report the vile abuse to which they are being subjected.
She added: “The hub will also improve our understanding of the scale and nature of this despicable form of abuse.
“With the police, we will use this new intelligence to adapt our response so that even more victims are safeguarded and perpetrators punished.”
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for hate crime, assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton, said the hub would “reduce the burden on frontline officers and help bring more offenders to justice”.
He added: “We recognise and will uphold the right to free speech even where it causes offence – but this does not extend to inciting hatred or threatening people.”
In 2015/16, a total of 62,518 hate crimes were recorded by forces in England and Wales, while the CPS completed 15,442 hate crime prosecutions.
The new hub is expected to be up and running by the end of the year.