A police force has apologised after it issued a campaign warning that “being offensive” was a crime.

The message, displayed on an advertising van on the Wirral from the Merseyside force, encouraged people to report hate crime, but warned: “Being offensive is an offence.”

A statement from Superintendent Martin Earl said: “We would like to clarify that ‘being offensive’ is not in itself an offence.

“A message on an ad van and social media this weekend by the local policing team on the Wirral to encourage people to report hate crime, although well-intentioned, was incorrect, and we apologise for any confusion this may have caused.

“Hate crime is an offence and will not be tolerated. Hate crime can come in various guises that can include assault, criminal damage, verbal and written online abuse.

“Our Hate Crime Co-ordinators draw on a wealth of experience and expertise to provide effective and above all sensitive and appropriate support for victims.

“We would also like to remind people we have a number of third party reporting centres including fire stations and activity centres which enable people who feel more comfortable discussing their issues with an independent party to come forward.”

The advert was intended as a show of support for the LGBT+ community and to encourage people to come forward about hate crime.

However, it was widely condemned on social media, with one person describing it as “chilling” while another called it a “horrible look”.