The Scottish Executive is facing pressure to make homophobia a hate crime after new figures reveal a significant rise in anti-gay attacks.

Figures obtained by a Scottish newspaper investigation suggest there has been a 100 per cent increase in incidents over the last year.

The Scotsman claims that “In the Lothian and Borders region, police have revealed that 30 homophobic offences have been recorded this year, compared with 37 for the whole of 2005. In 2003, just 19 incidents were recorded.

“In Strathclyde, 128 crimes and 16 “non-crime incidents” were recorded in 2005-6, against 113 and 25 the previous year, and only 40 and ten in 2003-4 – a rise of more than 200 per cent in three years. Such crimes included serious assault, threats and extortion, indecent assault, vandalism and breach of the peace.

“In Dumfries and Galloway, the number of recorded homophobic crimes and incidents, from physical assaults to verbal abuse, doubled from 20 in 2004-5 to 40 last year.

Over the past three years, recorded homophobic crimes and incidents have soared by about 150 per cent.”

Chief Inspector George Denholm, of Lothian and Borders Police, responsible for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues at the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, told the paper, “There is a huge level of under-reporting. The figures look like the problem is running out of control, but I think at least part of the reason for the increase is because the police are building more trust with the gay community.”

David Lyle, Scottish co-ordinator for the Gay Police Association, said: “If you replace the word ‘gay’ with ‘black’ in these verbal attacks, there would, quite rightly, be a massive outcry. But it seems perfectly possible to abuse gay people and hide behind the supposed shield of ‘because it’s my religious belief’.”

Mr Lyle suggested people were suffering retaliation from religious groups angry at pro-gay laws such as civil partnerships and gay adoption.

Calum Irving, director of gay rights group Stonewall Scotland, told The Scotsman “These alarming figures show that the Scottish Executive should be legislating in this area. They are talking about consistency of sentencing, but this leaves Scotland the only part of the UK that doesn’t have statutory aggravation on the basis of sexual orientation.”