There were 50,000 reported hate crimes across England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year, new figures show.

The vast majority concerned racism but almost 5,000 were motivated by homophobia and more than 300 related to transphobia.

Police said that the figures showed an increase in incidents but urged more people to report crimes.

Devon and Cornwall Police Chief Constable Stephen Otter, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told Press Association: “Hate crimes cause a great deal of harm among victims and communities.

“Against the 2008 benchmark year, we believe the 2009 data shows an increase in all five classifications of hate crime. Whilst we want to reduce the incidence of these crimes, it is vital that we close the gap of under-reporting.

“Only by increasing reporting can we gain a full understanding of the extent of hate crime and it is for this reason that I urge victims and witnesses to continue to come forward.”

In 2009, there were 43,426 race-related hate crimes, 4,805 motivated by sexual orientation, 2,083 crimes by religion or faith, 1,402 by disability and 312 which were transgender-related.

The previous year, there were 46,300 total hate crimes, which included 39,300 race-related crimes, 4,300 motivated by sexual orientation, 1,700 by religion or faith, 800 by disability and 300 related to transgenderism.

The minister for equality, Lynne Featherstone, told last month’s No to Hate vigil that she was “shocked rigid” at hate crime statistics after seeing them. She pledged that the government would “absolutely clear to stamp out hate crime whenever and wherever it occurs.”

She added: “We are working with the police and criminal justice system to promote better recording of hate crime. Because we know there are too many hearts to open and minds to change, we are working in schools and workplaces in sport and wider society to tackle the attitudes from where so many of these terrible violent acts stem, we can’t do it alone.”