CPS wins praise over disability hate crime efforts

New figures show the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is making good progress in prosecuting disability hate crimes successfully, say disabled activists.

Last year (2010-11), the number of successful convictions for disability hate crime-related offences rose from 483 to 579 across England and Wales.

The proportion of prosecutions that led to a successful disability hate crime conviction also increased, from 75.7 per cent in 2009-10 to 79.8 per cent in 2010-11.

The figures are contained in the CPS’s new Hate Crime and Crimes against Older People Report 2010-11.

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he was encouraged by the new figures, although he said they also showed there was “still a long way to go” in tackling disability hate crime.

But he said the CPS should be applauded for “taking the community with them”, by working with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations.

He said the figures showed that disabled people were becoming more confident in reporting such crimes to the police, although hate crime was far more common than the figures suggested because many were still not being reported.

He said: “The more confidence we get in that reporting process, the more closely those figures will start to reflect the reality. We have got to get more people reporting them.”

In his local area, a new reporting centre has caused reports to rise from just four hate crimes investigated by police in the year to July 2011 across Blackpool and parts of Lancashire to 24 cases reported just in Blackpool in the last six months, 11 of which are being investigated by police.

But the CPS report also shows that the number of cases referred to CPS by the police for a decision on whether there should be a charge fell by more than four per cent to 690.

Brookes said this was probably because police forces were working more closely with CPS to ensure they only referred cases with a genuine chance of a successful conviction, a result of the “multi-agency approach” that he and other campaigners have been calling for.

The report shows that nearly a quarter of disability hate crime defendants were women, a far higher proportion than for racist and religiously-aggravated (16.6 per cent) and homophobic (12.6 per cent) hate crime prosecutions.

More than two-fifths of disability hate crimes were for “offences against the person”, such as assault, while nearly a third were for offences of dishonesty, such as robbery, theft and fraud, a significantly higher proportion than with other hate crimes.

In all, the CPS prosecuted 15,284 hate crimes, up from 13,921 in 2009-10.

Last year, Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, said the CPS was “still in the foothills when it comes to disability hate crime and supporting victims and witnesses with disabilities”.

This week he said: “The CPS has an important part to play in tackling hate crime in our society, and I am encouraged by these statistics that we are on a firm footing to continue that fight.

“There is a lot more that needs to be done, within society as a whole, particularly in the area of crimes against the disabled community as I have already acknowledged.”

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said police forces recognised that “building confidence, particularly for reporting disability-related hate crime, remains a significant challenge”.

He said ACPO was looking into why the number of cases passed to the CPS fell in 2010-11, but he added: “The number of disability-related hate crime cases referred by police to the CPS has increased by 147 per cent in the past four years, which does reflect increasing trust in people coming forward to report such crimes.

“While the number of cases referred to prosecutors has fallen slightly in the past year, the service remains committed to tackling this and other forms of hate crime and improving our service to victims.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

CPS barrister to be quizzed over hate crime sentencing failure

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is reviewing a barrister’s decision not to call for stricter sentences for three people who took part in a “degrading” hate crime attack on a disabled man.

The man, who has learning difficulties, was taped to a lamppost in Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside, Greater Manchester, by three “friends” and covered with food, paint and nail varnish.

One of the three wrote the word “terrorised” on his leg, while other drawings and words were scrawled on his body, including an obscene image on his back.

By the time he was cut free by one of the trio, he was unconscious, apparently because of the amount of alcohol he had drunk, and fell heavily to the ground. He was taken to hospital by ambulance.

Police believe a mob of at least a dozen people took part in the attack last August, with one taking pictures of him on a mobile phone, although only three people were arrested.

Maggie Bowden, 38, of Whiteacre Road, Ashton; Rebecca Willis, 24, of Sheard Avenue, Ashton; and Anthony Connolly, 25, of Broadoak Road, Ashton, all pleaded guilty to assault, but escaped with suspended prison sentences after appearing at Manchester Crown Court.

CPS had treated the “truly degrading attack” as a disability hate crime, but the prosecuting barrister failed to ask the judge to impose a stricter sentence under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for harsher sentences for hate crimes.

Without a request for a sentencing “uplift”, the judge suspended the prison sentences imposed on the trio, as Bowden and Willis both have young children, while he said Connolly had played a less significant role in the attack. Each of them will also have to pay £300 compensation to the victim.

A CPS spokeswoman said: “We did everything we should have done, apart from the very last thing, which was to ask the judge to consider the sentence uplift. We will be writing to the advocate formally to find out why this was not done.”

Anne Novis, a leading disabled hate crime campaigner and a member of the Ministry of Justice’s hate crime advisory group, said: “Lack of appropriate sentencing gives the message that disabled people’s lives are worth less than others who experience hate crime.

“Yet again we are let down by the very people who should be prosecuting our cases appropriately and using all the measures of law we have. Yet again the message goes out that hostility towards disabled people does not equal tough sentences, just leniency.”

Beverley Smith, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, added: “The sentencing here gives out a strong message that, in some cases, disability hate crime is OK. It is not OK.

“Light sentencing does nothing to increase public confidence in reporting [disability hate crime]; indeed it is very damaging. I strongly believe that a review of this sentence needs to be undertaken urgently.”

But there have also been concerns raised about the role of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), which denied claims made in court that it twice refused to respond to calls from the public to help the man.

They said the first call they received complained about noise and drunken behaviour and said a man had been tied to a lamppost, while they have been unable to trace a second – 999 – call.

Assistant chief constable Garry Shewan said the force’s professional standards branch had launched an inquiry into how it responded, while GMP had also referred its handling of the crime to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Shewan said the incident was “thoroughly investigated as a disability hate crime”.

He added: “This man was subjected to a vile and horrendous assault and although the people responsible have been brought to justice, we are very sorry he was subjected to such abuse and are looking into whether we could have acted sooner.”

The case has again placed a spotlight on Greater Manchester Police’s record in dealing with serious disability-related incidents.

In March 2011, the IPCC heavily criticised GMP for its “total failure” to treat the “years of torment” experienced by David Askew at the hands of local youths as disability hate crime.

Askew, who had learning difficulties, collapsed and died from “natural causes” in March 2010 soon after police received reports that youths had again been harassing him outside his home in Hattersley, also in the borough of Tameside, on the edge of Manchester.

Last November, the force was criticised by the IPCC for ignoring two phone calls expressing serious concerns about the health of a disabled man, Philip Dorsett, who was later found dead.

There were also questions raised in 2010 about whether GMP failed to investigate a brutal and sustained attack by three teenagers on a young man with Asperger’s syndrome as a potential disability hate crime. The attack lasted three days.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

CPS launches ‘full review’ of NHS abuse scandal failure

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has launched a “full review” of its failure to prosecute any of the NHS staff accused of abusing 18 disabled people in a day centre.

Two weeks ago, the CPS agreed to re-examine its decision not to proceed with any charges over the alleged abuse at the Solar Centre in Doncaster.

Now Martin Goldman, the chief crown prosecutor for Yorkshire and Humberside, said he had seen an “initial assessment” of the decisions the CPS had taken in the case and “as a result it is clear to me that a full review of this case is now needed”.

The review will be carried out by the CPS complex casework unit, with lawyers considering all the evidence “completely fresh”.

A CPS spokeswoman said the decision to review the case had been taken following concerns raised by Disability News Service (DNS) and relatives of former users of the day centre.

Adrian Milnes, step-father of Richie Rowe, one of the disabled men allegedly abused at the day centre, said: “Obviously, we are all hoping for charges and a prosecution but by no stretch of the imagination am I going to be applauding the police or the CPS if we do get a prosecution.

“The first question I will be asking is: ‘Why did it take so long? Why were so many mistakes made in the previous five years?’”

DNS has also passed to the CPS a series of concerns over action that may not have been taken by the force that has twice examined the abuse allegations, South Yorkshire police.

An internal NHS investigation, which reported on the Solar Centre allegations in 2008, found evidence of 44 incidents between 2005 and 2007, involving abuse of 18 people with learning difficulties and high support needs.

The report by the trust which runs the day centre, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), makes it clear that nine members of staff claimed they witnessed abuse.

DNS has questioned why no charges have been possible when RDaSH appears to have taken at least nine witness statements, which seem to show there is clear evidence against three former members of staff.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Minister asks for information on abuse scandal

A Liberal Democrat minister is to investigate why the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has refused to prosecute any of the NHS staff accused of abusing 18 disabled people at a day centre.

The CPS decided two weeks ago – for the second time – not to bring any charges over the alleged abuse at the Solar Centre in Doncaster.

An internal NHS investigation, which reported in 2008, found evidence of 44 incidents between 2005 and 2007, involving abuse of 18 people with learning difficulties and high support needs.

The report by the trust which runs the day centre, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), makes it clear that nine members of staff claimed they witnessed abuse.

And Disability News Service (DNS) has seen safeguarding reports into the abuse of two of the service-users, which appear to show there is clear evidence against three former members of staff.

Last week, the CPS agreed to re-examine its decision not to proceed with any charges, after DNS questioned why no charges were possible when RDaSH appears to have taken at least nine witness statements describing ill-treatment.

Now the care services minister, Paul Burstow, has asked officials at the Department of Health to look into the case, after DNS brought it to his attention at the Liberal Democrat party conference.

Burstow said: “I appreciate why people are concerned about this particular case, which is why I have asked officials to look into this and report back to me.”

A CPS spokeswoman said they were still “conducting a review”. But she said that Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions and head of the CPS, was now being kept informed of progress on the case.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Crown Prosecution Service to look again at abuse allegations failure

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is to investigate why it refused to prosecute any of the NHS staff accused of abusing 18 disabled people at a day centre.

The decision not to bring any charges over the alleged abuse at the Solar Centre in Doncaster was made just three days after the head of the CPS, and a leading chief constable, spoke publicly of their determination to correct their organisations’ past failures in dealing with disability hate crime.

Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, and Stephen Otter, the equality and diversity lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers, spoke out last week at the launch of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) major report into disability-related harassment.

The report accused public bodies of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise such harassment.

The latest decision by the CPS in south Yorkshire follows a three-year battle for justice by families of former users of the day centre.

An internal NHS investigation, which reported in 2008, found evidence of 44 incidents between 2005 and 2007, involving abuse of 18 people with learning difficulties and high support needs.

The report by the trust which runs the day centre, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH) – which was leaked to the media last year – provides few details of the incidents, although it makes it clear that nine different members of staff claimed they had witnessed abuse.

But Disability News Service (DNS) has seen safeguarding reports into the abuse of two of the 18 service-users, which detail clear evidence against at least three former staff members.

These two reports raise serious questions over why the police and CPS have twice failed to bring any prosecutions against the three members of staff, referred to as “A”, “B” and “C”.

In 2007, South Yorkshire Police investigated allegations of physical assault, but the CPS said there was “insufficient evidence” to bring charges.

Last year, after the RDaSH report was leaked, the force reopened its investigation. This time it investigated possible allegations of ill-treatment under the Mental Health Act, after DNS questioned why such charges were not considered in 2007.

But last week, the force said it had been told by the CPS that there was still “insufficient evidence to proceed” with any charges.

Now, after DNS questioned why no charges were possible when RDaSH appears to have taken at least nine witness statements describing ill-treatment, the CPS has agreed to re-examine its decision.

Martin Goldman, the chief crown prosecutor for Yorkshire and Humberside, has told DNS that his deputy will “look into the issues”.

A CPS spokeswoman said that Naheed Hussain, who is responsible for the South Yorkshire area, would examine whether the statements detailed in the RDaSH report were passed to the CPS by the police.

Some relatives of former users of the Solar Centre are now considering seeking a judicial review of the decision not to bring any charges.

And at least three of the families are likely to lodge complaints with the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Adrian Milnes, step-father of Richie Rowe, one of the disabled men allegedly abused at the day centre, said: “The trust, the Care Quality Commission [the care watchdog], the police and the CPS have all behaved absolutely atrociously.”

He accused the authorities of “trampling over the human rights” of Richie and other former users of the Solar Centre.

Valerie Kirsopp, mother of Robert Kirsopp, another of the men allegedly abused, said she was “absolutely devastated” by the latest CPS decision.

She said: “The abuse was so blatant and continued for three long years. To think what he went through on a daily basis. I just think Robbie has been really let down.”

The uncle of another former service-user said he had “no faith” in the police and “wasn’t surprised” by the latest decision.

He said: “I feel let down that someone hasn’t done their job, whether it is the police or the CPS.”

Meanwhile, South Yorkshire Police has refused to answer crucial questions about its latest “investigation”, including whether it made any efforts to interview service-users themselves.

It is also unclear what action the force took over the RDaSH statements described in the two safeguarding reports.

A police spokeswoman said the force was “unable to provide any further details of the actual investigation, any evidence/allegations brought forwards and any witness statements taken”.

This week, a spokeswoman for Keir Starmer also refused to comment on the case, despite his pledge at the EHRC launch.

Below, DNS can summarise some of the allegations detailed in the two safeguarding reports.

The report on the abuse allegedly experienced by Richie Rowe describes how:

  • Witness H reported seeing A “turn Richie Rowe…in his wheelchair to face the wall using pillows to stop him moving” for up to 15 minutes
  • Witness Q saw A and C “kick Richie’s wheelchair whilst he was sat in it from one side of the room to the other causing Richie to crash into patients and the walls”
  • Witness Q saw A and C “lift Richie out of his chair and throw him onto the floor”
  • Witness E saw A and C each grab one of Richie’s arms and legs and “throw him onto trampoline and say ‘oh look he’s hit his head’”

A report on the abuse allegedly experienced by Robert Kirsopp describes how:

  • Witness E saw A “grabbing and forcing Robert to the floor to clean up a spilt drink”
  • Witness J saw A “pushing Robert around the room and pricking him with a needle”
  • Witness E saw A “pinning Robert against the wall” and hitting his head
  • Witness G saw B “push Robert to the floor to clean up a spilt drink” and smack his face

Witness F saw B “punch Robert in the head”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

EHRC harassment inquiry: ‘Culture of disbelief’ is preventing justice

Hundreds of thousands of disabled people are being subjected to disability-related harassment every year, but a “culture of disbelief” is preventing authorities from addressing the problem, according to a major new report.

The Hidden in Plain Sight report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which comes at the end of an 18-month inquiry which collected tens of thousands of pages of evidence, concludes that public bodies are guilty of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise disability-related harassment.

Mike Smith, chair of the EHRC’s disability committee and lead commissioner for its inquiry, told an event held to launch the report of a “culture of disbelief” that disability-related harassment could be happening.

He said: “It’s not just some extreme things happening to a handful of people: it’s an awful lot of unpleasant things happening to a great many people, almost certainly in the hundreds of thousands each year.”

Official figures show there were 1,567 disability-related hate crimes recorded by police in 2010-11, which Smith said was “a drop in the ocean compared to the stuff that is really going on out there”. Official figures suggest about 1.9 million disabled people were victims of crime in 2009-10, although not all of these crimes would have been disability-related.

Smith also said there was “significant under-reporting”, often because disabled people “do not believe that anything can and will be done”.

The harassment can include damage to property; theft; cyber-bullying; sexual violence; domestic violence; physical violence; and institutional abuse.

Smith told the launch that harassment causes many disabled people to “limit their own lives”, which “limits their ability to participate as equal citizens within our society”. He said that society “has to change in its attitude towards disabled people”.

Smith, who describes his own experiences of disability-related harassment in the report, says another shocking conclusion is how little information about the problem is collected by schools, local authorities, health services, and the criminal justice system.

Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), welcomed the report, which he said was “an important benchmark for the challenges facing us”.

He said: “Many disabled people feel inhibited from coming forward to report disability-related harassment and when they do come forward their cases are not always recognised as disability-related crime by the police, the prosecutor, or both.”

He said the CPS had raised its game but there was “a lot more to do”.

Stephen Otter, chief constable of Devon and Cornwall police and the equality and diversity lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers, described the report as a “really important moment”.

He said the police needed the “same kind of learning” that occurred after the 1999 publication of the inquiry into how the police investigated the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

The report also suggests that the failure to include disabled people in society – including the history of forcing disabled people to live in institutions, and segregated employment and education – has helped to cause disability-related harassment.

The report offers seven “core recommendations”: the need for strong leadership; better data on the “scale, severity and nature” of harassment; a more accessible and responsive criminal justice system, including action on sentencing of disability-related crimes; better understanding of the motives of perpetrators; improved attitudes towards disabled people in society; research on how best to prevent and respond to harassment; and improved staff training.

The EHRC now aims to consult widely and produce a “manifesto for change” next spring, which will outline the steps agencies are taking and the outcomes the commission expects to see over five years.

It has already laid out measures it believes should be taken by individual public bodies, such as the police, the CPS, the courts, schools, local authorities, health services, housing and transport providers.

There are also recommendations for government departments, including the Office for Disability Issues, the Department of Health, the Home Office, the Department for Education, and departments in the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.

Although there was disappointment expressed by disabled activists at the failure of a government minister to attend the launch, the EHRC insisted that it had decided two months ago not to invite any ministers in order to ensure the event was “non-political”.

Meanwhile, MPs and peers on the all party parliamentary disability group (APPDG) have pledged to push for a parliamentary debate on the report.

Anne McGuire MP, the APPDG co-chair, said she would seek a debate after author and campaigner Katharine Quarmby told a joint meeting of the APPDG and the parliamentary learning disability group that she believed there had never been a full parliamentary debate on disability hate crime.

Quarmby talked in the meeting about her new book Scapegoat, which investigates some of the most shocking disability hate crimes of recent years.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

EHRC harassment inquiry: Hate crime murder case highlights need for change

Fresh concerns have emerged over the way the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deal with disability hate crime, in the week that a major inquiry called for action to address the issue across the criminal justice system.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report was launched in Westminster, just as five young people from Warwickshire were being sentenced at the Old Bailey for the horrific killing of Gemma Hayter, a 27-year-old woman with learning difficulties, whose body was found on a disused railway line last August.

Hayter had considered the five to be her friends, but was brutally beaten, and forced to drink from a can of beer that two of her “friends” had urinated in.

After the attack, she was cleaned up and led to a deserted railway embankment, where she was violently beaten again, cut with a knife, kicked, stripped and had a plastic bag put over her head. Her dead body was left naked beside the abandoned railway line.

The EHRC report, Hidden in Plain Sight, concluded on Monday that hundreds of thousands of disabled people were being subjected to disability-related harassment every year. The report accused public bodies of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise the problem.

Disability News Service (DNS) has reported on a string of court cases involving prolonged, violent attacks on disabled people which have exposed problems within the criminal justice system over its treatment of disability hate crime.

The head of the CPS, Keir Starmer, told the EHRC launch event that the report was “an important benchmark for the challenges facing us”.

He said it was clear that his organisation needed to “reflect long and hard on the evidence in this report” and warned that it was “important to remind ourselves just how much further we need to go” in tackling disability hate crime.

Just three days later, the CPS admitted to DNS that it had originally failed to treat the killing of Gemma Hayter as a disability hate crime.

Although – as the EHRC report points out – the law currently does not allow higher “starting tariffs” for disability-related murders, as it does for racist or homophobic murders, it does allow for higher sentences for manslaughter.

Three of the defendants in the case – Daniel Newstead, Chantelle Booth, and Joe Boyer, all of Little Pennington Street, Rugby, were found guilty of murdering Hayter. But two others – Jessica Lynas, of Little Pennington Street, and Duncan Edwards, of Rounds Gardens, Rugby – were convicted of manslaughter.

The CPS has admitted that the case was “not initially flagged up as a disability hate crime”, and it was only after a review that the CPS instructed its barrister to ask the judge for an increased sentence for Lynas and Edwards.

But a CPS spokeswoman has so far been unable to say why the sentences of Lynas and Edwards do not appear to have been increased by the judge.

Warwickshire police has refused to comment on why it does not appear to have treated the case as a disability hate crime, because of an ongoing serious case review into Gemma Hayter’s death.

Newstead was given a life sentence and told he must serve a minimum of 20 years before parole can be considered, while Booth must serve at least 21 years of her life sentence, and Boyer 16 years of his. Lynas was sentenced to 13 years and Edwards to 15 years.

The EHRC report calls on the government to address the “disparity” in sentencing for disability-related murders (a starting tariff of 15 years) and other hate crime murders (a starting tariff of 30 years), which it says “inadvertently sends out a message that a disabled person’s life can be considered only half as valuable as that of others”.

Mike Smith, the EHRC commissioner who led the harassment inquiry, said it was “quite clear” that the “obvious anomaly” in murder sentencing needed to be addressed.

But he also stressed the need for section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for increased sentences for disability hate crimes – including manslaughter, but not murder – to be “applied more effectively and more clearly” by the criminal justice system.

He added: “The law just has to be better understood and better applied by all agencies involved.”

Katharine Quarmby, whose ground-breaking new book Scapegoat investigates disability hate crime, said it was clear that the law on sentencing for disability-related murders needed to be amended.

She urged MPs to back an amendment to make such a change to the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which is currently in its Commons committee stage.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com