Police pilots ‘must not blur boundaries with hate crime’

Police forces trialling a new approach to anti-social behaviour should not be tempted to downgrade potential disability hate crimes, says a leading disabled activist.

The government has launched pilot projects across eight forces, aimed at changing the way the police respond to calls about anti-social behaviour.

The schemes should make it easier to recognise someone who has made repeated complaints, share information with other agencies, such as local authorities, and quickly identify the “most vulnerable victims”.

One of the forces taking part is Leicestershire police, which was heavily criticised over the death of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter after suffering years of targeted hostility at the hands of a local gang.

Despite repeated calls to the police, the harassment was never treated as a disability hate crime.

An inquest jury concluded that the failures of the police and other public bodies contributed to Pilkington’s decision to kill herself and her daughter in 2007.

Anne Novis, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said she welcomed any system that would help police forces recognise repeated harassment or hostility against disabled people.

But she wants to see forces – including those taking part in the pilots – recording incidents of targeted hostility against disabled people as disability hate crime and not anti-social behaviour.

She said: “I don’t want to see this distract them from the reality of hate crime and the fact that that should be investigated appropriately and quickly as hate crime.”

She also raised concerns about the government again describing disabled people as “vulnerable”.

Sir Ken MacDonald QC, then the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, said in 2008 that the use of the “vulnerable” label to describe hate crime victims meant “we are one step away from making the assumption that disabled people should expect to be attacked because of who they are”.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The call handling trials are about better protecting those most vulnerable in our communities.

“Specialist support, including hate crime advice, will be available to the eight trial areas so repeat victims are identified quickly and receive the right support.

“Where a hate crime is reported, police should treat it as such and respond appropriately.”

The trials, in Avon and Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, London, South Wales, Sussex and West Mercia will run until July.

James Brokenshire, the crime prevention minister, said: “Antisocial behaviour ruins lives, damages our communities and, at its worst, can have tragic consequences.

“It is essential those who raise the alarm and ask for help are listened to and their complaints acted upon promptly.

“It is not acceptable that those most in need either slip through the net or are plain ignored.

“The technology exists to allow agencies to introduce a smart way of handling such complaints and a simple way of sharing information – they need to use it.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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