What is a Disability Hate Crime?

March 3, 2019 by Alison Watson-Shields

A hate crime is any crime that is perpetrated against somebody because of who they are or what they believe. The motivation for these offences stems from the victims’ gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability; characteristics protected under law and enshrined in legislation. Unfortunately, while it is widely accepted that the majority of these characteristics are protected, too few people know that a person can be victimised because of their disability.

An example of disability hate crime is the story of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter, Francesca, who had autism and other learning disabilities. Fiona was Francesca’s primary carer and were both subjected to a sustained campaign of hate crime because of Francesca’s disability. The abuse ranged from verbal abuse in the street damage to property and physical assaults.

In August 2007, driven to despair because of the relentless and seemingly unstoppable abuse, Fiona murdered Francesca before taking her own life.  This case was instrumental in changing the law to make disability-related hate crime more visible. The government also introduced a National Hate Crime Strategy, which provided specific instructions and guidance to police officers, prosecutors and members of the judiciary on exactly what  should be done when dealing with disability hate crimes.

Brent Martin is another example of Disability Hate Crime. He was 23-years-old with a learning disability and living independently when he was attacked and ultimately murdered by several teenagers he had befriended. In actuality, the teenagers had taken advantage of him; frequently using his home for their own purposes and stealing his money to buy cigarettes and alcohol. Following his murder in the summer of 2008 all of the perpetrators were convicted and received between 15 and 20 years in prison.

While it was acknowledged that the Police and Social Services had acted correctly following the murder, quickly identifying the incident as a hate crime and locating and apprehending the perpetrators, they were also heavily criticised following a serious case review. The review determined that the police could have acted sooner as they had been contacted repeatedly by friends, family members and neighbours.

Nationally, there has been a chronic lack of reporting of disability hate crimes, the problem stems from a lack of knowledge of the subject matter. However, there are also other issues around the subject of reporting disability hate crime:

  • Believing that the disabled person will not be believed;
  • Believing the incident should simply be forgotten about;
  • Believing that being discriminated against is an unfortunate by-product of living with a disability.

It is essential that we enable disabled people to speak out. Even if they do not necessarily think they are a victim of a hate crime they should still contact the police and allow them to make that determination.

The police have two strands of hate crimes that they work under: Hate Crimes and Hate Incidents. Hate crimes include when a perpetrator is physically violent or damages property. While hate incidents are less serious in nature, such as abuse in the street, abuse online or malicious phone calls. Hate incidents will still be treated in the same way as hate crimes, however, they may be resolved using other methods such as official police warning and cautions.

When looking at the issue of the Criminal Justice System as a barrier it is important to understand that there are provisions in place within the legal system to make it easier for disabled and vulnerable people to access it. These include:

  • Video links to courtrooms,
  • Third party reporting,
  • Dedicated Hate Crime investigators.

Investigators will take the initial disclosure from the victim and attend their home to conduct the interview trying to minimise any stress and anxiety. If a determination is made that a hate crime has taken place the case will automatically be passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will determine whether or not charges are necessary.

The following case study demonstrates what can be achieved when a victim of a disability hate crime reports it to the police.

In February 2018, a teenager was assaulted by a group of youths in Cleveland. This teen has autism, dyspraxia and epilepsy, all of which had to be considered by police and the CPS in their preparation of the case. The assault happened as the teen was making his way home from the town centre. A group of youths approached him and began to call the teen a “Paedophile”. Some of the group continued taunting and one twelve-year-old boy, F, threw a stone which hit the teen on the side of the head.

In the moments that followed, the teen was punched to the side of the head by a 16-year-old boy, which caused him to fall to the floor. As the teen lay on the ground, a 15-year old girl kicked him multiple times to the head. As a result of the attack, the teen was extremely distressed; could not stand up, felt dizzy after the assault and dyspraxia affects their coordination. A family friend assisted the teen to their feet and walked them to safety while calling family and the police.

Once the disability hate crime element was flagged up, the Crown Prosecution Service worked with the Police to agree what actions were necessary; both to support the victim and to proceed with the prosecution. The CPS lawyer dealing with the case met with the victim and their mother during a pre-trial visit. Understandably, the Mother was quite distressed by what had happened, but the lawyer was able to build a good relationship with her with the assistance of the Witness Care Unit and service at court. Shortly before the trial, the lawyer took the decision to instruct an intermediary. An intermediary is someone who works with a victim to help them give the clearest and most accurate evidence they can in court. The intermediary is impartial and neutral and their duty is to the court. The intermediary visited the victim at home and prepared a report in which they made an assessment of needs and recommendations for victim care at court. The perpetrators were prosecuted. For more information on teh case study, click here.

We would actively encourage anyone who is involved in a hate crime or hate-related incident to report it to the police. Nobody has the right to make anybody else feel worthless, intimidated, upset or discriminated against because of who they are.

Anyone affected by the contents of this article can contact Cleveland Police on 01642 326326.

Written by Liam Twizell REACH Advocate

Related  articles: 

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/disability-hate-crime-rise-latest-figures-united-response-a8583751.html

https://www.cleveland.police.uk/advice-information/Hate-Crime.aspx

https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/local-news/hate-crime-debate—cleveland-3689640

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/hate-crime-increases-north-east-15286646

https://www.cps.gov.uk/hate-crime

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