Churches, mosques, temples and synagogues can now apply for Scottish Government grants to install security measures against hate crime.

The £500,000 Hate Crime Security Fund, first announced in January last year, will be open for applications until July 21, with money expected to be paid in the autumn.

Faith communities can apply for funds of up to £20,000 for a maximum of three security measures.

These include CCTV, security doors, alarms, fencing, video intercoms and improved lighting.

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said the scheme will “ensure faith communities most vulnerable to hate crime are supported to worship in safety”.

She added: “Scotland is an inclusive and tolerant nation, but our society is not immune from the threat of prejudice and hate.

“Places of worship should be places of peace and sanctuary and our faith communities should feel safe and secure when they visit them.”

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Almost half (42 per cent) of religiously-aggravated hate crime in Scotland was directed at Catholics, according to the Scottish Government’s Study into the Characteristics of Police Recorded Hate Crime.

Prejudice towards the Muslim community occurred in over a quarter of crimes (26 per cent), and against the Protestant community in one in 10 crimes (12 per cent).

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie said: “Faith leaders and their congregations should be able to attend worship without fear of crime or persecution.

“Targeting people, places or communities because of their religious affiliation is unacceptable and Police Scotland works alongside our religious communities to safeguard against crime of any nature, and in particular hate crime.

“Officers regularly liaise with community and faith leaders and monitor issues and tensions across Scotland.

“We thoroughly investigate every hate crime incident. We are also aware hate crime is significantly under-reported, and we always encourage anyone who witnesses an incident, be they victim or bystander, to make us aware and allow us to determine whether an offence has been committed.”