Law Commission review brings tougher hate crime laws closer

The prospect of tougher laws on disability hate crime has moved a step closer, after the government’s advisers on law reform launched a review of how current legislation was working.

The Law Commission will look at two possible changes, both mentioned in the government’s hate crime action plan in March, but will not report until the spring of 2014.

The first possible change will involve looking at how crimes such as assault or criminal damage are currently prosecuted as “aggravated” offences with higher sentences – under the Crime and Disorder Act 1988 – if the offender demonstrated hostility or was motivated by racial or religious hostility.

The commission will examine whether these aggravated offences should now be extended to crimes motivated by hostility on the grounds of disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Law Commission will also examine laws that provide protection – under the Public Order Act 1986 – against publication of material intended to stir up hatred against people on the grounds of their race, religion or sexual orientation.

The commission will examine whether those offences should now be extended to disability and gender identity.

The government has already doubled to 30 years the starting point for sentences for murders motivated by hate on the grounds of disability or transgender status – in line with other hate crime murders – after the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act became law in May.

But disabled activists have long campaigned for the laws on aggravated offences and stirring up hatred to be extended to disability-related offences.

Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, and author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime, said the Law Commission review was “really quite significant”.

She suggested that new laws on inciting hatred of disabled people could persuade newspapers to “think twice” before they write stories that could stir up such hostility, and could put an end to some of the “lazy disablist remarks” often made across the media.

She said: “I think people would be much more careful of causing offence if they knew there was a possible criminal action.”

Southampton Centre for Independent Living (SCIL) also welcomed the Law Commission’s announcement, and added: “SCIL believes that legislation should be reformed to extend protection to all five groups and will be making representations to the Law Commission to this effect.”

Damian Green, the Conservative justice minister, said: “All hate crimes are deplorable; they leave people living in fear of unprovoked attacks and violence.

“We are pleased that the Law Commission has been able to take on this review and look forward to receiving their report.”

Leveson’s third party reporting call ‘is no slippery slope’

The government must back Lord Justice Leveson’s call for disabled people’s organisations to be allowed to lodge complaints with the press regulator about misleading and disablist newspaper coverage, say campaigners.

A letter published in The Guardian this week says disabled people, alongside other minority groups, have experienced “sustained levels of misleading, hostile and discriminatory reporting in the press”.

Activists say there is strong evidence that such reporting has caused an increase in disability hate crime.

The letter welcomes the conclusion by Leveson – in his report on press standards – that the presence of “a significant tendency” within the newspaper industry has led to the publication of “prejudicial or pejorative” references to disabled people and other minorities.

Leveson’s report says a new press watchdog would need to “address these issues as a matter of priority”, with the first step allowing groups representing minorities to lodge “third party complaints”, with the possibility of fines, corrections and apologies if the newspaper was found to have breached the relevant standards.

The “editor’s code” of the current press watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), says newspapers must avoid such “prejudicial or pejorative” references, but provides no protection for minority groups if no individual has been identified in a story.

This has given newspapers freedom to run articles portraying disabled benefits claimants as “scroungers” and “fakers”, with the PCC powerless to act.

The letter was written after a Conservative MP told the Daily Telegraph – one of the newspapers criticised by Leveson for publishing misleading stories about disability benefits – that third party reporting could lead to “sinister” and “politically motivated” complaints.

This week’s letter to the Guardian says third party reporting is “critical to ensuring a right of redress and a voice for minority groups”, and was “not a slippery slope to the press being ‘hijacked’ by ‘sinister’ pressure groups” but would “give those who are so often the victims of sensationalist and prejudicial headlines the basic right to make a complaint”.

The Guardian letter has been signed by disabled activists, disabled people’s organisations and hate crime campaigners, including Tracey Lazard and Kirsten Hearn, chief executive and chair of Inclusion London; Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education; Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts; journalist Katharine Quarmby, author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime; John McArdle, a founding member of the user-led campaign group Black Triangle; Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network; and John Pring, editor of Disability News Service.

12 December 2012

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ODI silence suggests ministers think alliance voices will be more to their liking

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have questioned the government’s willingness to listen to disabled people, following the first meeting of a new “alliance” set up to advise the government on disability issues.

Leading disabled figures who attended a preliminary meeting of the Disability Action Alliance (DAA) were left frustrated by the lack of clear information about how the group would operate, how it would be funded, and what its purpose was.

But they also questioned why the alliance of charities and private and public sector organisations should be necessary at all when there was an existing group of DPOs set up to perform an almost identical task.

The preliminary meeting of DAA took place two weeks ago and was attended by several leading DPOs, companies such as British Telecom and Lloyds Banking Group, three government departments, quangos, and charities such as Mencap and Leonard Cheshire Disability.

The government will now ask these and other organisations if they want to become DAA members, and will also set up a steering group.

The government has said DAA will focus on “delivering action through partnership”, bringing together DPOs with public, private and third sector organisations, and will “operate alongside, and not replace, existing mechanisms for engaging with disabled people”.

But some of those who attended the DAA meeting have been left questioning its purpose, how it will work, and why the government appears to have abandoned its existing Network of Networks (NoN), a collection of 12 DPOs set up under Labour to create “a more efficient two-way communication between disabled people and government”.

NoN completed one consultation on disabled people’s views of the work of the DWP, and passed on the results to the government, but was never given the go-ahead for its next piece of work.

Its members say the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) is now refusing to answer questions about NoN and whether it still has a role. Instead, it is focusing on DAA.

Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), who attended the DAA meeting, said NoN had written to seek clarification from the new Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey.

He said: “My suspicion is that they didn’t like the actual answers that were given in the first consultation.”

He added: “The work the ODI have asked the alliance to do sounds very, very similar to what the ODI were originally going to be asking the Network of Networks to do.”

Melanie Close, chief executive of Disability Equality North West, which is part of NoN but was not invited to the DAA meeting, said ODI appeared to have dropped NoN without telling its members, and was no longer replying to emails about the project.

She said: “It seems like they have looked at those DPOs and thought, ‘We don’t like those answers, we are going to try somebody else.’”

Close said she believed the government only wanted “yes people” to be part of DAA and did not want people “who are going to be a bit more contentious, who are going to challenge”.

She was also angry that there appeared to have been no DPOs from the north of England invited to the DAA meeting.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, who attended the DAA meeting, said she was concerned at the prospect of a DPO-led body like NoN being replaced by one that was not user-led.

She said: “I went along to try to find out more and left with no clearer idea. It was frustrating in its lack of information about the context and the thinking behind the alliance, and how it would work. It seemed ill-thought-out.”

Douglas Gilroy, who attended the DAA meeting on behalf of The National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB), but spoke to Disability News Service afterwards in a personal capacity, said he believed DAA would be just “window dressing” for the government.

He said: “I think it is better that NFB gets on with its work, which is campaigning. I really think the disability movement should be led by disabled people and I do not think that this is quite the scenario [with DAA].”

Some of the disabled people who attended were slightly more positive about DAA.

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he was “more than happy to give it a go”, although he said he would “not be part of anything that becomes a talking-shop”.

Heather Fisken, who manages the Independent Living in Scotland project, said the DAA meeting was an “interesting event” but there were “still some questions to be answered about how the group will fit in with the work of existing organisations and groups”, although it was still “early days”.

6 December 2012

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Government refuses to research hate crime impact of special schools

The Department for Education (DFE) has rejected a key recommendation of the equality watchdog’s disability hate crime inquiry, which could have undermined the government’s anti-inclusion stance on the education of disabled children.

Although most of the recommendations of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) Hidden in Plain Sight report were accepted by the government this week, the DfE refused to fund research that could have undermined its backing for segregated education.

The EHRC’s inquiry report, published last September, concluded that hundreds of thousands of disabled people a year were subjected to disability-related harassment, but that public bodies were guilty of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise the problem.

And it suggested 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 – had helped cause disability-related harassment.

It called for the government to commission research on how segregated education, or inadequate support in mainstream education, affected children’s schooling and the ability of disabled children to “re-integrate into wider society”, as well as the extent to which segregation “adversely impacts on non-disabled children’s views of disability and disabled people”.

But DfE this week rejected the recommendation, and said it wanted to see “the development of a diverse range of good quality provision for disabled children, whether in mainstream or special school”.

The government’s pledge to “remove the bias towards inclusion” in disabled children’s education has sparked anger and protests by disabled activists since the coalition came to power.

Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said they were “very disappointed” that the government did not want to commission the research.

She said: “It clearly indicates that the government wants to go ahead with providing a greater amount of segregated education provision without considering the long-term impact on disabled children and young people who experience segregated education.”

The only other major EHRC recommendation rejected outright was a call for the government to introduce national reports and plans on disability-related harassment. The Home Office and Ministry of Justice said it was “more appropriate” for these to be issued locally.

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he would give the government’s overall response just “five out of ten”.

He said: “What they are doing is taking out the bits that are going to be costly and annoying and leaving in the bits that are up to everybody else.”

He said he was particularly disappointed with the government’s rejection of the need for national action to tackle disability hate crime.

Brookes welcomed the government’s praise for the partnership work on tackling hate crime that he had supported in his home town of Blackpool, which had led to a “dramatic increase” in disabled people having the confidence to report hate crime.

But he said the government needed to take a leading role and not just leave it to local agencies.

The EHRC said it was “pleased that the government has agreed with a significant majority of our recommendations”.

An EHRC spokesman said: “We are currently reviewing the detailed response, alongside the responses of nearly 50 other national organisations and bodies, and will be reporting on them in our Manifesto for Change report which will come out this autumn.”

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Shadow minister calls for Leveson to think again on media hostility

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has called on Lord Leveson to rethink his decision to prevent disabled people giving oral evidence to his inquiry into press standards.

Disabled campaigners want to give evidence about national newspapers that have stirred up hostility towards claimants of disability benefits, but say they have been sidelined by the inquiry.

Anne McGuire MP told Disability News Service (DNS) that she was “really disappointed” that Lord Leveson had decided not to take any of this evidence in person.

She said: “Given the onslaught against disabled people that has appeared in the media over the last number of months, you would have thought this would have been something that ought to be aired properly in public at the inquiry.”

She added: “The way in which disabled people have been vilified in the press from my point of view is every bit as important as the way in which politicians and media personalities have been treated.”

McGuire said that the way the media was “misrepresenting the lives of disabled people” was causing many of them “distress” and “beginning to impact on the confidence” of many disabled people.

Disabled people’s organisations – including Inclusion London, the UK Disabled People’s Council and the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN) – told DNS last November that they wanted to give evidence to the inquiry, set up in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

They believe there is strong evidence that disabled people are facing an increase in targeted hostility and hate crime as a result of stories that have been published in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, particularly on the subject of disability benefits.

They say that headlines such as “Disabled Benefit? Just fill in a form” (in the Daily Mail) and “75% on sick are skiving” (in the Daily Express) are leading to the “demonization” of disabled people, while “fair and accurate reporting, particularly in relation to disability benefit fraud, has gone out the window”.

But although the inquiry has accepted their written statement, it has refused to allow disabled people to give evidence in person.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, wrote last month to Lord Leveson on behalf of 18 disabled people’s organisations and campaigners to ask him to reconsider his decision, but the inquiry has turned down their request.

A Leveson inquiry spokesman said: “The inquiry has responded to a large number of pieces of correspondence and the position is the same as it was.

“If the shadow minister has other points that she wants to make she is more than entitled to write to the inquiry.”

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Three-year cruelty campaign was not hate crime, says judge

A judge has sparked concern after refusing to treat a three-year campaign of cruelty in which a disabled man was repeatedly beaten by relatives as a disability hate crime.

Preston Crown Court heard last week that Ghalib Hussain, who has epilepsy and learning difficulties, was beaten with a stick, had a jump-lead clamped to his nose, and was headbutted and whipped.

Hussain had come to Britain from Pakistan for an arranged marriage with the daughter of Nek Alam, 72, from Accrington.

But he was rejected by his new wife, and subjected to a three-year campaign of harassment and emotional abuse at the hands of Alam and his three sons, Zahir, 33, Zahoor, 32, and Janghir, 29.

All four pleaded guilty to putting Hussain in fear of violence by harassment, over a three-and-a-half year period between 2007 and 2010.

Nek, Zahir and Zahoor Alam were each jailed for 15 months, while Janghir Alam was jailed for 10 months.

The court had heard that one of the Alams described Hussain as “mentally sick”, another said he was “a burden”, while one of the sons said he had a “childish mind” and was referred to as “the clown or the mental case”.

But although Lancashire police and the Crown Prosecution Service both treated the offences against Hussain as disability hate crimes, the judge, Jonathan Gibson, refused to increase their sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for harsher sentences for hate crimes.

The judge told the court that he was “satisfied that this is a case where your frustrated reactions to his poor behaviour (as you saw it) overflowed and the poor behaviour was as a result of his disability”.

He added that Hussain had “displayed some difficult behaviour whilst in the care home [where he is now living] and, it seems to me, (and I sentence you on this basis) that he clearly displayed difficult behaviour whilst in your family home”.

A spokesman for the Judicial Office said the judge had told the court that he was sentencing the defendants “on the basis that they had not properly understood the nature of the victim’s disability and that they had reacted wrongly and criminally to what was, in their eyes, the victim’s difficult behaviour”.

But Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “It is going to frustrate us and the CPS when we are trying to drive the process of getting section 146 recognised if the courts are turning round and not applying what the CPS and the community feel is appropriate.

“I think it emphasises the fact that judges and magistrates do need to be brought into the real world in terms of training for the application of section 146.”

A CPS spokesman said: “The CPS explained the facts of the case to the court and suggested the court consider section 146… which sets out the basis for an increase in sentence where the circumstances of the offence show the offender demonstrated hostility towards the victim based on the victim’s disability or sexual orientation.

“We felt that was appropriate in these circumstances. The court did not agree with us that the specific circumstances of this offence fitted the criteria set out in section 146.”

He said the CPS was unable to comment further on the judge’s decision.

A Lancashire police spokeswoman said: “We did deal with it as a disability hate crime because that is how we perceived it to be.”

Asked how the force felt about the judge’s refusal to treat the offences as disability hate crimes, she said: “It would not be appropriate for us to be commenting any further.”

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Leveson inquiry ‘has sidelined disability’

Disabled activists who want to give evidence about newspapers that have stirred up hostility towards claimants of disability benefits appear to have been sidelined by the Leveson inquiry into press standards.

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) – including Inclusion London, the UK Disabled People’s Council and the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN) – told Disability News Service (DNS) last November that they wanted to give evidence to the inquiry, set up in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

But although the inquiry has accepted their subsequent written statement, it appears to have ruled out any chance of disabled people giving evidence in person.

Inclusion London, and the other DPOs and activists who signed up to its witness statement, say there is strong evidence that disabled people are facing an increase in targeted hostility and hate crime as a result of stories that have been published in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, particularly on the subject of disability benefits.

They believe that headlines such as “Disabled Benefit? Just fill in a form” and “75% on sick are skiving” are leading to the “demonization” of disabled people, while “fair and accurate reporting, particularly in relation to disability benefit fraud, has gone out the window”.

But despite a joint written submission being accepted and published on the Leveson website, an inquiry spokesman told DNS that it was now too late to take evidence in person on the issue because the inquiry had moved on from discussing the relationship between the press and the public.

He said the inquiry team was “content” with the evidence it had been sent in written form, and added: “They are happy to work off written evidence and submissions and they think they have got enough of them.

“The inquiry is content that it will cover issues around the way the media has treated people with disabilities.”

He said the inquiry intended to publish “further submissions relating to disability issues shortly”.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said they and other organisations and individuals would be writing to the inquiry to “strongly urge them to specifically address the issue of the portrayal of disabled people in the media” and to ask to be able to give oral evidence to the inquiry.

She said: “This issue is extremely important to disabled people and the impact of current grossly inaccurate reporting is directly linked to rising incidents of disability hate crime and hostility which in turn is causing disabled people to live in fear and anxiety.”

Stephen Brookes, a DHCN coordinator and the retiring joint chair of the National Union of Journalists’ disabled members council, said: “I am deeply dismayed that a real opportunity has been missed by Leveson and those submitting to its work in making the press as a whole take responsibility for creating an environment which is not just hostile to, but actually has created criminal hate towards, disabled people and other minority groups.

“It is of little surprise that disabled people and their organisations are at odds with the media in all its guises.”

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Budget 2012: Tax statements ‘could lead to hate crime’

A measure announced in this week’s budget could lead to a further increase in disability hate crime, campaigners have warned.

There has been considerable alarm at plans laid out in George Osborne’s budget speech to send annual statements to 20 million tax-payers, from 2014, showing how their taxes are being spent.

Osborne said the statements would show how much of their own tax bill funds “healthcare, education, or welfare, and how much is spent on servicing interest payments on the national debt”.

He added: “People will know what they are paying, and what they are paying it for.”

The Treasury wants to send out “pie charts” showing total government expenditure divided into slices of a pie that represent spending in departments such as health and education, with the largest slice by far likely to be labelled simply “welfare”.

But there were real concerns this week that this could suggest to some people that disability benefits are far higher than they are and lead to more of the disablist hostility that has been stirred up by frequent coalition attacks on alleged benefit fraud and dependency.

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said the plans outlined so far were “pretty shoddy” in how they would present welfare spending.

He said the statements would “most probably” increase “lower impact” disability hate crime, as had happened in recent months because of the rhetoric around the government’s welfare reforms.

Henrietta Doyle, Inclusion London’s policy officer, said she feared the annual statements would stir up hostility, even though disability benefits were a small proportion of welfare spending.

She said: “Because of the level of coverage in the media the public have been linking over and over disabled people and welfare benefits.

“They just automatically put the two together, which could increase the antagonism against disabled people, and may lead to more harassment.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman refused to comment on whether it would ask the Treasury to take measures to ensure the annual statements did not stir up more hostility towards disabled people.

He said: “It would not be for one department to comment on another department’s policies.”

But there was some better news in the budget, with the announcement of an extra £20 million for voluntary sector advice organisations in both 2013-14 and 2014-15, to “support the sector as it adapts to changes in the way that it is funded”.

The government is pushing through plans to cut £350 million from the legal aid budget, and confirmed in December that it would not be replacing millions of pounds in grants formerly provided by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to organisations that provide expert legal support for discrimination cases.

Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns for Disability Rights UK, said he was “excited to learn of £20 million per year for advice services”, but said the money would simply be “a plaster over legal aid cuts”.

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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.”

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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.

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