WEST YORKSHIRE has the second-highest number of people charged with racial crimes in the country, despite a slight fall in the number of cases brought to court last year.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Racist Incident Monitoring Scheme's annual report for 2002-2003 collected data on all racist incidents sent for prosecution to the service by the police.

Nationally, racially-motivated crime rose 12.4% last year.

But in West Yorkshire - second only to West Midlands for such crimes - the number of cases reduced slightly from the previous year, from 421 cases to 406 cases.

Of the 406 defendants charged, 315 were prosecuted and 85% of pleaded guilty or were convicted.

Chief Crown Prosecutor Neil Franklin said: "The commission of racially or religiously-aggravated offences cannot be tolerated in a civilised society.

"In West Yorkshire we work alongside the Police and communities to ensure the effective prosecution of such offences wherever the evidence allows.

"The assumption by CPS of statutory responsibility for charging offenders next month will enable us, in partnership with the police, to build strong cases against those appropriately charged with religiously or racially aggravated crime.

"The CPS racist and religious crime policy statement was launched last year following consultation with 120 groups and representatives from minority ethnic communities.

"In West Yorkshire, we continue to work closely with local race equality committees and race harassment projects to ensure that we deal with such offences to the maximum effect."

The report defines a racist incident as "any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person".