Police force blasted for ‘astonishing’ hate crime failings

A police force has been fiercely criticised for failing to treat the bullying and harassment of a disabled man as a potential disability hate crime.

Kial Cottingham, 19, was this week sentenced by magistrates to 16 weeks in a young offenders institution, after pleading guilty to harassing David Askew, from Hattersley, on the edge of Manchester.

Askew, who had learning difficulties, collapsed and died in March soon after police received reports that youths had again been harassing him outside his home. Tests revealed he died from natural causes, due to a heart condition and undiagnosed cancer.

Cottingham admitted harassing him for more than six weeks, although Askew and his family – his mother is a wheelchair-user and his brother also has learning difficulties – had faced hostility, threats and abuse from local youths for 17 years.

Askew’s mother Rose said: “He had been put through hell over the years. It was not just one incident – it went on for years. Sometimes he would cry and ask me if I could move people out of our garden because they would call him very hurtful names.”

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said Askew and his family “had been subjected to prolonged anti-social behaviour and harassment for a number of years before his death” and that Askew “had severe learning difficulties and because of this he was a regular target for youths”.

Despite this, GMP admitted to Disability News Service that they failed to investigate the incident as a possible disability hate crime.

So although the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) later “flagged” the case as a potential disability hate crime, the police did not have the evidence to prove Cottingham’s harassment was motivated by hostility or prejudice.

If they had done so, the CPS could have brought this to the attention of the magistrates, who would have had to increase his sentence.

A CPS spokesman refused to comment on “what the police may nor may not have done”, but he said the crown prosecutor did provide details of Askew’s “vulnerable situation”, which magistrates took into account in sentencing.

Two years ago, the then head of the CPS, Sir Ken MacDonald QC, was deeply critical of his organisation’s tendency to describe disabled victims of hate crime as “vulnerable”.

He said in 2008 that this use of the “vulnerable” label meant “we are one step away from making the assumption that disabled people should expect to be attacked because of who they are”.

Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he was “deeply saddened” by the failure of GMP when “other police forces through the country seem to be doing far more” in taking disability hate crime seriously.

But he said he was also “deeply disappointed” by the failure of the CPS to ask the police to produce the necessary evidence to prove that Askew was the victim of disability hate crime.

Mark Shrimpton, deputy chief executive of RADAR, said: “RADAR understand that Greater Manchester Police did not recognise the David Askew case as one motivated by disability hate.

“We find that astonishing and, if true, a fundamental error on the part of the police.  Disabled people experiencing hate crime clearly continue to be let down by the criminal justice system.”

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is looking at how GMP handled the crimes experienced by the Askew family.

A GMP spokesman said: “We have had contact with the Askew family for several years, with several different generations of offenders who have been after this family.”

He said the IPCC would be asking whether the force did enough to “save” the family and whether David Askew’s death could have been prevented by “further police action”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

One in three anti-social behaviour victims are disabled, says report

Nearly a third of people who have contacted the police about anti-social behaviour are disabled people, according to a major national report.

The Stop the Rot report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) says anti-social behaviour (ASB) across England and Wales is a “blight” on the lives of millions of people, and calls for police to make a “new start” in tackling it.

Of nearly 5,700 people who contacted the police about ASB and took part in a survey for the report, 29 per cent said they were disabled or had a health condition.

And more than a third (36 per cent) of callers who said they had reported ASB six times or more in the last year were disabled or had a health condition.

Disabled people were also much more likely than non-disabled people to have faced intimidation (43 per cent, against 27 per cent) after making a stand against ASB.

The report says that of 43 police forces across England and Wales, only 22 have IT systems that help them identify and prioritise repeat callers, with just 16 of them able to identify those most at risk of harm.

Sir Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, said: “Perpetrators need to know they are wrecking lives, the results can be tragic and that they will get swift action from the authorities if the public call for help.”

The report’s publication came in the same week that magistrates sentenced a teenager for repeatedly harassing a man with learning difficulties.

David Askew, whose family had faced 17 years of abuse, bullying and harassment at the hands of local yobs, collapsed and died soon after Greater Manchester Police received the latest report of harassment outside his home.

The HMIC review says the impact of ASB is even greater for repeat victims, particularly those who are disabled people.

Among its recommendations, the report calls for police officers to visit more victims of ASB, prioritise repeat victims and those most at risk of harm, and for forces to give their officers the information and resources they need to act on ASB.

Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said the anti-social behaviour highlighted in the report was “just the tip of the iceberg”.

He said: “The network has brought to light a massive issue and people are recognising that it has to be sorted because it is far bigger than anybody ever thought.”

But he added: “It is not just a police issue. It is the Crown Prosecution Service, social services, local government, every single agency needs to sit down and get their act together. Unless they do, there will be more deaths.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Agreement with EU publishers could help sharing of accessible books

European publishers and disability organisations have signed an agreement that could help convert more books into accessible formats.

The agreement aims to help ease the “book famine” faced by those who are “print-disabled” – blind, partially-sighted and dyslexic people – in which only about five per cent of books are ever converted into accessible formats such as large print, audio or Braille.

The “memorandum of understanding” was signed this week by the Federation of European Publishers, the European Blind Union (EBU) and the European Dyslexia Association, who were brought together by the European Commission (EC).

Although it will not be legally binding, the document describes the circumstances in which publishers will allow disability organisations to share their stocks of accessible books across the EU.

Most of the few books that are currently made accessible are produced by RNIB in the UK and other charities such as ONCE in Spain.

Lord [Colin] Low, president of the EBU, said the signing of the memorandum of understanding was the start of an “important project”, and added: “We need and welcome publisher help to tackle the ‘book famine’.”

Dan Pescod, international campaigns manager for RNIB, said the ideal solution would be for publishers to publish more books in accessible formats, but that “isn’t likely to happen in the near future”.

Although the agreement sets a helpful precedent, he said it was unlikely to have a huge impact on print-disabled people in Britain as there were no other EU countries mass-producing English-language books.

He also said it would be important to monitor the impact of the agreement, but stressed there was also a need for a “proper legal framework” through the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a UN agency.

RNIB, EBU and other campaigning groups want a worldwide WIPO treaty on sharing accessible books.

Michel Barnier, the EC’s commissioner for the internal market and services, presided over the signing in Brussels.

The commission described the signing of the memorandum as an “important and concrete step” in increasing the number of accessible books, and said “noticeable increases in cross-border distribution” should be possible within a year.

Barnier said: “Today’s agreement shows what Europe truly stands for: an internal market that not only promotes culture but also caters for the needs of people with special needs or disabilities.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Euthanasia protest will mark opposition to ‘very dangerous’ bill

Disabled anti-euthanasia campaigners are to stage a protest outside the Scottish parliament, as a committee of MSPs hears evidence on a proposed bill that would legalise assisted suicide in Scotland.

The end of life assistance (Scotland) bill would allow those “whose life has become intolerable”, and who met a series of conditions, to “legally access assistance to end their life”.

Those who were terminally ill – or “permanently physically incapacitated” as a result of a progressive condition or “trauma” and “unable to live independently” – would qualify for assistance to end their lives under the bill, which has been proposed by independent MSP Margo MacDonald.

Bill Scott, acting manager of Inclusion Scotland – a national consortium of disabled people’s organisations and disabled people – said that offering the bill’s assistance to anyone with a care need was “very, very dangerous”.

He said a “huge number” of people would technically qualify for assistance under the bill, which was “not about assisting people at the end of their lives but about offering assistance at any stage once they have acquired an impairment that requires some level of care”.

Catherine Garrod, a member of Inclusion Scotland, said there were many people within the disability rights movement who were “very strongly opposed” to the bill.

She said it could be argued that the bill covered any disabled person who receives disability benefits, and added: “That’s why the disabled people’s movement is so strongly opposed to it. It is going to cover such large numbers of disabled people.”

Written evidence already submitted to the committee considering the bill by Independent Living in Scotland (ILiS) – a disabled people’s organisation set up to develop the independent living movement in Scotland – said the bill took a “disempowering” approach to independent living.

ILiS said the bill “contradicts and undoes the years of work” by the independent living movement, the Scottish government and other organisations.

ILiS also criticises MacDonald’s bill for making no mention of the barriers disabled people face that may contribute to them finding life “intolerable”.

The protest will take place from 9.30am on Tuesday 28 September, the day Inclusion Scotland is due to give evidence to the committee, along with other disability and pro- and anti-euthanasia organisations.

For more information about the protest, contact Inclusion Scotland, email info@inclusionscotland.org or tel: 0141 8877058

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Report finds Pathways was a dead end

A new report by MPs has called on the government to “fundamentally review” the employment support it provides for disabled people claiming out-of-work disability benefits.

The report by the public accounts committee (PAC) on Labour’s Pathways to Work programme for disabled people found the scheme was “not well implemented” and had little impact on moving disabled people into work.

It followed a report by the National Audit Office in June that also concluded that Pathways had provided “poor value for money”.

In 2008-09, £94 million (more than a third of its budget for that year) was spent on providing extra support that failed to deliver any additional jobs, says the new report.

The report calls on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to deliver “clear guidance” on the type of support that is likely to deliver additional jobs to those involved in the coalition government’s new single Work Programme that will launch next summer.

It raises concerns that those found fit for work under the controversial new work capability assessment (WCA) might not receive the job support they need under the Work Programme.

And it calls on the government to evaluate its capacity to support the “large numbers of people” on old-style incapacity benefit (IB) who will be found fit for work when reassessed under the WCA and are likely to need extra support because of the length of time they have been on IB.

The number of people claiming incapacity benefits – including IB, income support on the grounds of disability, and the new employment and support allowance (ESA) – fell by 125,000 between February 2005 and August 2009, but has remained at more than 2.5 million for over a decade.

More than £750 million has so far been spent on Pathways.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour chair of the PAC, said that “no-one knows” how much Pathways contributed to the fall of 125,000, and she criticised the failure to carry out a “rigorous evaluation” of the initial Pathways pilots that began in 2003, which gave an “over-optimistic” impression of what it could achieve.

The report criticises private sector Pathways providers, who “seriously underperformed”, doing less well than the government-run Jobcentre Plus, even though private contractors work in “easier” areas with fewer claimants and higher demand for labour.

Chris Grayling, the minister for employment, said: “This report is hugely disappointing and just underlines how misplaced many of the previous government’s labour policies were.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

‘Deep concerns’ over Ofsted’s SEN review

Inclusive education campaigners have raised “deep concerns” about crucial parts of a review of the special educational needs (SEN) system by the education watchdog.

Ofsted’s review, which was commissioned by the Labour government, points to “widespread weaknesses” in provision for disabled children and “evidence that the way the system is currently designed contributes to these problems”.

It says that, since 2003, the proportion of children with a statement of SEN – for those needing the most intensive support – has decreased from three to 2.7 per cent, while those needing less intensive support has risen from 14 per cent of all pupils in 2003 to 18.2 per cent in 2010.

About one in five children – approximately 1.7 million – are currently categorised as having SEN.

But the report claims as many as 460,000 of these children should not be classed as having SEN and, rather than needing “relatively expensive additional provision…simply need better teaching”.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said it was “deeply concerned” about this claim and “does not share” Ofsted’s view.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s campaigns and policy coordinator, said: “We know how difficult it is for parents of disabled children to access the support they need to thrive in the mainstream environment. From our experience, a lot of those [460,000] children are those with undiagnosed conditions.”

ALLFIE said it was also very concerned about Ofsted’s recommendation that there should only be legal rights to provision for those disabled pupils covered by the Disability Discrimination Act [soon to be replaced by the Equality Act].

Aspis said this was “watering down” and “weakening” disabled children’s right to access the support they needed, and added: “When the child’s needs are identified, the provision must be provided – no ifs, no buts.”

But she welcomed the review’s call for simpler legislation and a more transparent SEN framework, and Ofsted’s acknowledgement that there was a lack of choice for disabled learners in further education.

Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, director of the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, said the Ofsted report shows the need for a “thorough” review of how provision is organized and the “significant discrepancies” between provision in different local authorities.

She also welcomed the call for simpler legislation, a “huge issue” which CSIE has been pushing the government to act on, as well as the demand for clarity on the different terms used by agencies to refer to disabled children.

And she praised the emphasis on the outcomes disabled children themselves said they wanted from their education, such as relationships and independence, rather than a narrow focus on educational attainment.

She added: “I hope this report challenges the government to develop a system where parents no longer feel they have to fight for the rights of their children.”

The government is due to publish a green paper on disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN) this autumn.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

RADAR, NCIL and DA set to merge: Trio want a stronger voice

Three of the most influential national disability organisations are hoping to merge within 12 months, they announced this week.

RADAR, the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) and Disability Alliance (DA) said they had been “exploring” the possibility of closer working for the last 18 months.

Each organisation will now consult with its members about the proposal to create a single disabled people’s organisation, provisionally to be called the Disability Rights Partnership.

There are no plans for any redundancies among the combined 35 staff of the three organisations, RADAR said.

Neil Coyle, DA’s director of policy, said the “unification” was not because any of the organisations were facing financial problems, but because “we can do more collectively than we can apart”.

He said the new organisation would provide a more powerful voice to address disabled people’s concerns, and would build and improve upon the existing support and services provided by the three partners.

Sir Bert Massie, a former RADAR chief executive and still a vice-president, welcomed the move.

He said disabled people needed an organisation that could campaign and lobby government on the big issues but was not a service-provider reliant on short-term government contracts, like so many disability organisations.

Sir Bert said that RADAR’s campaigning influence and skill, DA’s expertise on the “huge” issue of disability benefits and NCIL’s work promoting independent living would “come together rather nicely”.

He added: “What’s important now is that it moves very quickly. What would be dangerous would be a long period of indecision.”

In a statement, RADAR, NCIL and DA said the new organisation would provide “an integrated service for disabled people” and would be led by disabled people.

They said this week’s announcement that Vanessa Stanislas, DA’s chief executive, would be leaving for another job on 1 October had “offered an opportunity to inject new energy” into their discussions.

They said their shared vision was about realising rights and equality for disabled people, but warned that society would only change when disability was “at the heart of public policy” and “when disabled people speak for themselves and determine their own future”.

RADAR was formed in 1977 and is a national campaigning network of disability organisations and disabled people; NCIL was set up by the British Council of Disabled People in 1996, becoming independent in 2003, and promotes the concept of independent living; while DA, which was formed in 1974, campaigns and provides information on the link between disability and poverty.

Members have been asked to give their views about the proposed merger by the end of this month, with debates to take place at their annual general meetings this autumn, with RADAR’s on 13 October.  Final decisions are likely at general meetings next spring.

They hope the new organisation will be established by the middle of 2011.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com