Convictions for racist attacks have shot up in the West Midlands, new figures have revealed.

The number of people convicted for offences of racially aggravated violence has increased by 60 per cent since 2002, in the region served by West Midlands Police.

The rise has been even more dramatic in the West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police areas.

The Government said the figures reflected the success of police in targeting hate crime, and the increased willingness of victims to come forward and report offences.

However, one Birmingham MP said he believed there had also been an increase in racist violence.

Khalid Mahmood (Lab Perry Barr) blamed the violence on divisions between communities which were created by the 9-11 terrorist attacks in the US, and the 7/7 attacks in the UK.

He said: "We have seen the BNP and other far-right groups take advantage of these divisions.

"There is also a lot of strong feeling about immigration and asylum seekers, and misinformation coming from parts of the media.

"I think many people in my constituency would say tensions have risen. It doesn't surprise me if incidents of violence have risen, but I don't think the situation is as bad as these figures seem to suggest."

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty revealed the figures in the House of Commons.

They show the number of offenders found guilty in court of racially aggravated violence for each police force area, between 2002 and 2006:

* Convictions in the area served by West Midlands Police increased from 229 in 2002 to 371 in 2006 - an increase of 62 per cent

* The rise was even more dramatic in the area covered by West Mercia Police, where the number of convictions increased from 52 to 126, up142 per cent

* Convictions in the Warwickshire Police area rose from 27 to 91, an increase of 237 per cent

* In the Staffordshire Police area, convictions rose from 57 to 77, up by 35 per cent.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice said : "Increased reporting and convictions demonstrate the increased confidence of victims that their cases will be treated seriously and sensitively in the criminal justice system.

"As we continue to improve the prosecution process the number of such cases will increase.

"One of the Government's priorities in tackling hate crime is to encourage the reporting of such crimes so that they can be properly investigated and we can bring more offenders to justice.

"Improvements include better monitoring of files by police to identify racist incidents and supporting witnesses and victims so they are not discouraged from giving evidence." Racially aggravated offences were introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and came into force on September 30, 1998.

The Act created new offences of racially aggravated assault, criminal damage, harassment and public order.

For each of these new offences, the maximum penalty is higher than the maximum for the basic offence without the element of racial aggravation.

The measures were controversial, because critics argued that assaults should be treated with the same seriousness whether racism was a factor or not.

But Gordon Brown has announced plans to expand the principle by making support for terrorism an aggravating factor which judges can take into account when passing sentence.

Across England and Wales as a whole, the number of convictions between 2002 and 2006 rose more than doubled, from 2,272 to 5,166 - an increase of 127 per cent.