A local councillor who appalled a user-led organisation by suggesting that disabled children should be “put down” because they cost too much to support will not face a police investigation.
Colin Brewer made the comments to a Disability Cornwall manager at a council-run equality and diversity event in Truro in October 2011, but they only emerged this week at the end of a lengthy disciplinary hearing.
The event had been organised so councillors like Brewer could meet equality organisations and learn about the services they provide and the issues faced by their members.
When he approached the Disability Cornwall stand, Brewer was told about its Parent Partnership Service, which supports parents of disabled children.
He responded by telling Theresa Court, Disability Cornwall’s advice services manager: “Disabled children cost the council too much money and should be put down.”
The comment was overheard by a parent of a disabled child, who was standing nearby.
Court said this week: “I was absolutely horrified anyone would make such a depraved comment, let alone a Cornwall councillor and at a public event.
“As far as I was concerned, I had a duty to make a formal complaint against Councillor Brewer to seek appropriate justice.”
The council’s standards committee eventually ruled that Brewer had breached its code of conduct, and should send a formal apology to Court at Disability Cornwall.
In the letter, he says: “I am writing to offer my whole hearted apology for the offence these remarks have clearly caused. While I meant no offence by my remarks to you I can see, in retrospect, that they were ill judged and insensitive and should not have been made at all.”
Devon and Cornwall police said this week that Brewer would probably have faced a criminal investigation for a disability-related offence of causing “intentional harassment, alarm or distress” – under the Public Order Act – if his comment had taken place in a public setting.
A police spokesman said complaints were lodged at the time and were treated as “hate incidents”, before being referred to the council’s monitoring officer and in-house disciplinary procedures because they took place inside a council building and were not in public.
He added: “Certainly, if the words said were as reported and he was at a public meeting and said that disabled children ought to be put down, you would be looking at a public order offence.”
In the wake of public outcry over his comments this week, Brewer eventually said that he would resign.
His comments shocked and appalled disabled activists across the country, and the wider public, with 97 per cent of those who took part in one poll on a Cornish website calling on him to resign.
Disability Cornwall welcomed Brewer’s resignation, although it said it was “a shame that it took a formal investigation and 18 months to force the apology we eventually received”. But it said it would not “condone a witch hunt against Councillor Brewer or his family”.
The organisation also welcomed a pledge from the lead councillor on health and wellbeing to introduce a programme of mandatory awareness training at the council.
In a statement, Disability Cornwall said: “We hope we have raised awareness on such a scale that it has opened up opportunities for much-needed and overdue debate on the role and value of disabled people in today’s society.
“This is particularly relevant at a time when disabled people, families and carers are facing unprecedented challenges to their ability to live independently and with dignity in our communities, due to cuts in financial support, cuts to universal health and social care services, a lack of training and employment opportunities and increasingly hostile media coverage.”
Brewer has yet to reply to an email from Disability News Service, while his telephone mailbox was full and would not take any further messages.
1 March 2013
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com