Homophobic crimes and offences against those who visit areas known for gay cruising are much more common than figures show, police believe.

PC Anton Brown, who works on issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Redbridge, says many victims are unwilling to report crimes such as robbery and sexual assault because they do not want their sexuality revealed.

He said: “Our research shows that thefts, robberies, rape and other violent assaults take place at these locations and the victims are scared to report them as they do not want to be 'outed'.

“They are often men that have sex with men and may not necessarily identify as being gay.

“We patrol these locations as research shows that members of public that frequent them are easy targets for crime.

“We estimate there to be three times as many crimes against LGBT that are not reported.

"Many of the initial reports we do get from victims or witnesses are screened out at the first stage because they do not want it to be followed up.”

So far in 2013, there have been 22 reported crimes of this type in Redbridge, compared to 11 in 2011 and 17 in 2012.

“Hopefully this is an indication that the positive engagement work with the LGBT community at PSE's and other events such as crime stalls and surgeries, is increasing their confidence to report incidents to the police," PC Brown said.

Having sex in public is illegal, but police rarely make arrests.

“Whilst the practise is illegal, in most cases the police do not arrest or prosecute as the men that attend the locations do not engage in sexual activity in public view,” PC Brown added.

“We try to engage with the members of the public and try to support them by pointing out the dangers.”

Redbridge Police will be setting up an information stall on the issue between 10am and 12pm on January 23 at the cafe in Ray Lodge Park in Snakes Lane East, South Woodford.