Disabled people frequently report that their disability was a factor in crimes committed against them. Despite this, the vast majority of such incidents are not investigated, prosecuted or sentenced as disability hate crimes. Blair McPherson investigates
Is it a crime to call someone names in the street or try and get cigarettes off them? Is it a crime to borrow a fiver on giro day or to get a "friend" to share their medication? Is it a crime to take advantage of people who have a disability simply because they are easy target, socially isolated and afraid to report their tormenters believing no-one would do anything anyway?
It's clearly socially unacceptable, it's nasty and it shows a very unpleasant side of human nature but is it criminal behaviour? Is it hate crime or is it just anti-social behaviour? It is hate crime and it is punishable by a prison sentence?
What's different about disability hate crime as opposed to behaviour motivated by racism or homophobia? Disabled people are targeted for hate crime in the same way as people from minority ethnic groups and gay people but with the added dimension that disabled people are seen as easy targets.
What's different about disability hate crime is the people responsible. Statistically they are white, male, young and local. Anecdotally they are "friends" and neighbours. Those subjected to disability hate crime do not suffer at the hands of strangers, they know who their tormenters are.
Sometimes it's a local group of young people who call out abuse in the streets, throw stones at the windows and vandalise the individual's property. But it is also the practice of befriending someone with a disability with the purpose of taking advantage of them. Borrowing money with no intention of paying it back, eating someone's food leaving them to go hungry, using their house for parties, making jokes at their expense, and bullying them. There is evidence from those prosecuted for the most brutal assaults involving torture and abuse over a long period of time that this often started with this type of low level exploitation that went unchallenged.
What can be done about disability hate crime? Increase awareness so it is recognised for what it is, a serious criminal offence. Encourage neighbours and the general public as well as housing, social services and voluntary agencies to report incidents to the police. For everyone, including the police, to take such reports seriously and do something about it.
While disabled people feel no-one will do anything they will continue to feel that it is pointless to report incidents. While perpetrators continue to believe no-one will intervene then abuse will continue. The law is there, it is not acceptable to dismiss disability hate crime simply as anti-social behaviour or to fail to prosecute on the assumption that people with a disability, like a learning disability, will make unreliable witnesses.
The history ...
In 2000, a couple with learning difficulties were held hostage in their home over a weekend. They were both sexually assaulted and the man was forced to eat faeces and was cut 40 times. His partner was also attacked. Their children witnessed the attacks. The couple now have post-traumatic stress syndrome.
In March 2005, Keith Philpott, who had learning difficulties, was falsely accused of being a paedophile, tortured, disembowelled and stabbed to death in his own home.
In July 2007 Christine Lakinski, a disabled woman, collapsed in a doorway on her way home. As she lay dying, a man threw
a bucket of water over her, covered her in shaving foam and urinated on her. One of his friends filmed the incident on a mobile phone.
In May 2006 Raymond Atherton, a 40-year old man with learning difficulties, was severely beaten, had bleach poured over him and was thrown in the River Mersey, where his body was later found by police. His attackers were people he had considered his friends.
Nicola Barnaby, who has chronic anxiety, endured seven years of physical and verbal abuse from tenants in her council flat. When she reported being pushed and called a "mad schizo" the police did nothing to intervene.
Rikki Judkins was murdered in an underpass in June 2006. A police spokesman said: "He was subjected to a sustained assault that culminated in a large stone being dropped on his head, causing fatal injuries."
Kevin Davies, who had epilepsy, was kidnapped and held captive in a garden shed for four months before he died in September 2006. He was fed scraps, brutally tortured and his money was stolen. Again, he had considered his captors his friends.
In April 2007, Colin Greenwood, a blind father with young children, was kicked to death by two teenagers. Before his murder, Mr Greenwood had stopped using his white stick in public for fear of being targeted.
In August 2007 Brent Martin, a young man with learning difficulties, was viciously attacked and murdered for a £5 bet. Before his death, his three attackers partially stripped him, chased him through the streets and subjected him to a sustained attack in four different locations.
These are not one-off incidents. Disabled people in Britain are regularly mocked, taunted, robbed, assaulted and harassed. Their homes are attacked; their cars damaged and the places where they live, work and meet are also targeted. In some cases, these incidents develop into more sinister and serious crimes ending in kidnap, rape, torture and murder.