AN INQUIRY has been launched into measures taken by the police, schools, transport firms and other public bodies to stop disabled people being harassed or attacked, it was announced today.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned it could take enforcement action if it found that organisations were failing in their duties.
As part of its evidence-gathering the commission has highlighted 12 high-profile cases of disability harassment in Wales – ranging from cases of bullying and targeted vandalism to the deaths of people with disability – going back to February 2009.
They include the case of David William Frederick Rees, a 50-year-old alcoholic and epileptic who suffered with cirrhosis, who was beaten to death by two men in his Trealaw home.
His attackers, Steven John Evans, 24, and Leighton Aaron Williams, 26, of Tonypandy, were each jailed for five years in March after they denied murder but admitted manslaughter.
In April, a 22-year-old man was charged with the murder of Philip Holmes, a disabled man whose body was discovered in a flat in Rhyl, Denbighshire. Mr Holmes, who used a frame to walk following an accident, died hours before his 57th birthday.
The commission is now calling on disabled people and their carers to come forward and give evidence to the enquiry, the first wave of which will be completed in September this year.
Kate Bennett, the EHRC’s national director for Wales, said: “There can be no more important human right than to live life in safety and with security. Its absence prevents us from living our lives to the full.
“Disabled people should have the same right as everyone else to walk down the street without being intimidated or assaulted, to attend school without being bullied, to get on a bus or live in their house without fear.
“Abuse, intimidation and violence against disabled people can be terrifying and is largely an untold story here in Wales.
“If we collect enough stories at this evidence-gathering stage it will help us all to identify solutions and put them into practice. Improving life for disabled people in Wales is an urgent task.”
Across the UK, at least one person appears in court every working day charged with a crime against a disabled person, with almost half of cases involving violence.
Among the most shocking cases have been that of Brent Martin, a 23-year-old with learning disabilities who was kicked to death by three youths in Sunderland in 2007, and, in the same year, Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her 18-year-old disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick after a sustained campaign of abuse at the hands of youths at their Leicestershire home.
Rhian Davies, chief executive of charity Disability Wales, said: “We welcome the decision to investigate the level and depth of abuse, violence and harassment experienced by disabled people in Wales.
“Following the deaths of Brent Martin and Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca, there needs to be a commitment to action to ensure all disabled people in Wales live a fulfilled, safe and secure life.”
Research carried out by the EHRC in 2009 found disabled people were four times more likely to be victims of crime and that disabled children and young people, particularly those with learning disabilities, were most at risk.
Social Justice and Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant said: “We all have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in society and ensure that disabled people and those with long-term health conditions are able to live a life without fear.
“This is why I welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s decision to undertake this enquiry.”
* For details on how to give evidence at the enquiry, visit www.equalityhumanrights.com/disabilityharassmentfi , e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0845 604 88