Homophobia was behind one in five hate crimes recorded in Cumbria last year, figures reveal.

Home Office data shows Cumbria Constabulary recorded 124 homophobic and biphobic hate crimes in the year to March – 25 fewer than the year before.

It means someone's sexual orientation was a motivating factor in 18 per cent of the 681 hate crimes recorded in the county last year.

Charity Galop, which runs an LGBTQ+ hate crime helpline, said the pandemic has fuelled abuse, adding some callers said their attackers believe the outbreak to be a punishment for LGBTQ+ lifestyles.

Leni Morris, the charity’s CEO, said: “Lockdowns brought with them an escalation of abuse from homophobic and transphobic neighbours, with some of our clients experiencing break-ins and yet having few places to flee due to the restrictions.

“Around 70 per cent of same-sex couples avoid holding hands in public for fear of attack, but social distancing has made same-sex couples visible in public – and this has indeed led to attacks.”

She added the crimes have long-term effects on victims, with some changing their behaviour to avoid being targeted again.

The figures show transphobia was a factor in 27 hate crimes recorded by Cumbria Constabulary last year.

And there were 399 racially motivated incidents, 123 disability-related hate crimes and 49 offences linked to religion.

Police can record more than one motivating factor behind an offence.

In England and Wales, transphobic hate crimes more than doubled in the last five years, from 1,195 in 2016-17 to 2,630 last year, while sexual orientation crimes increased from 8,569 to 17,135.

The Home Office said that while the biggest drivers behind the rises were improvements in police recording and increased willingness from victims to come forward, the Government "could not be complacent", and a new hate crime strategy will be published this year.

Charity Stonewall says the true scale of hate crimes against LGBTQ+ victims may be much higher, due to many incidents going unreported.

Robbie de Santos, director of communications and external affairs, said the figures must be a wakeup call for addressing LGBTQ+ hate crimes.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable.

"The cowards who commit them should feel the full force of the law."