Mr Speaker I beg to move that leave be given to bring in a Bill to require police forces to register hate crimes committed against people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities, including autism; and for connected purposes.
Mr Speaker honourable and right honourable members may remember EDM 172 – Hate Crime against those with autism, which was signed by 104 members of this house, showing that this is a matter of concern in this place and the wider community.
I think it’s safe to say that everyone in the House either knows someone personally, or has met someone, who has learning difficulties or disabilities, yet how many honourable members are aware of the abuse and bullying many of these vulnerable people are subjected to on a regular basis.
The issue was repeatedly brought to my attention when I was Chair of the Valuing People Now Partnership Board for the North East, where service user groups regularly prioritised reporting and solutions to hate crime; and more recently, I have been in discussion, with national and international campaigner Kevin Healey, whose autism anti bullying campaign has been acknowledged with his 147,000 followers on Twitter, but even Kevin himself is not immune from cyber bullying, trolling and vitriol being directed at him because of his autism.
To appreciate the seriousness of bullying and hate crime, we need only look at the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington, who took her own life and that of her daughter, Francesca Hardwick, in 2007, after 10 years of harassment by bullies in her neighbourhood.
According to the IPCC report, their deaths were largely caused by missed opportunities by the police to record information, act on that information and identify the family as vulnerable and in need of care and support.
Similarly, a joint review of disability hate crime was conducted and found that disability hate crime is “overlooked” and “under-reported”.
In one of my neighbouring constituencies, a few years back Brent Martin, a young man with learning disabilities, was beaten to death by three people he took to be friends – a sad case where those with learning disabilities or difficulties are physically abused, and in some cases murdered, by so called friends.
There are ever-growing concerns that hate crime against those with learning disabilities and difficulties is on the rise. My only hope is that this rise, as many vulnerable people feel, is not indicative of an increasing antipathy towards disabled people by the rest of society.
According to Home Office figures for 2011/12, there were 43,748 hate crimes recorded by the police.
Of those hate crimes recorded:
82% were race related
10% were related to sexual orientation
4% were religiously motivated
4%, only 1474, were disability hate crimes
What we need to see happen, is offences motivated by hostility towards the disabled or those with learning disabilities or difficulties to be treated in the same way as those motivated by racial or religious hatred. The victims of these crimes are equally aggrieved and harmed as anyone in any other category.
I think we can all agree that we want disabled people to feel safe and to be protected from criminals and bullies; and in order to guarantee this, we need an effective system whereby hate crimes against these vulnerable individuals are properly reported, recorded and reviewed to ensure that police resources are efficiently targeted to tackle this scourge.
I’m not sure how many honourable members have had the opportunity to read the revealing report by Mencap, “Don’t Stand By – Ending Disability Hate Crime Together”, which investigates how 14 police forces in the UK report disability hate crime; and further highlighted how reported disability hate crime against those with learning disabilities and difficulties is significantly lower than actual disability hate crime.
The report also found that although many forces recorded disability hate crime, only one force recorded disability hate crime by type of impairment – physical, sensory and learning disabilities & mental health conditions, which is concering. As was reported last year by the Director of Public Prosecutions some force areas recorded a nil return for disability hate crime – I treat that with incredulity.
Another element found in the report, and also the joint review of disability hate crime, is the inability of some police officers to distinguish between learning disability and difficulty hate crime and anti social behaviour.
In fact Steve Ashley, programme director to HM Inspectorate Constabulary (HMIC), who conducted the joint review, said that there’s a lack of willingness by police officers and police staff in control rooms to ask the right questions to establish the condition of the victim.
It is imperative, as Mr Ashley outlined, that the right questions are asked to determine the nature of the crime to ensure that the most vulnerable are not disregarded.
Furthermore, improved information sharing between the police, the CPS and other stakeholders, such as disability organisations and housing groups, is essential to firstly, ensure hate crime against those with learning difficulties and disabilities is reported, but secondly, to ensure that prosecutions are pursued like racial or religious hate crimes.
It is a sad fact that all too many victims with learning difficulties or disabilities do not report to the police in the first instance.
In 2010, only 1200 cases of disability hate crime were prosecuted, compared to 48,400 racist or religious crimes; however, a survey by The National Autistic Society recently revealed:
Of 800 autistic people who took part in a survey:
81% of respondents to an NAS survey said they had experienced verbal abuse and 47% reported that they have been victims of a physical assault; and just 6% of respondents said they had not experienced any form of bullying or abuse because of their disability.
28% had experienced exploitation, theft or fraud
28% had possessions or property damaged
24% had been victims of cyber bullying
65% of respondents have experienced hate crime more than 10 times
73% of people didn’t report the crime to police but of those that did, 54% said the police did not record it as a hate crime and 40% said the police did not act on their report
62% of people also said they did not think that the police had taken their disability into account
That is a sample of 800, but multiply that by the hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, who are either on the autistic spectrum or have learning disabilities or difficulties and therein lies a catalogue of untold misery.
The last few statistics highlight the necessity for improved police training when it comes to identifying, firstly whether a person is disabled and what type of disability; and secondly, whether what they are reporting is a hate crime.
Many people with learning difficulties and disabilities, including autism, find it difficult to communicate with others, and this has resulted in some quite horrific cases.
Mr Speaker you may have heard of the teenage boy with autism, who attended a special educational needs school, who whilst at a swimming pool, was physically restrained and handcuffed by police, which resulted in the family receiving damages and the High Court describing the treatment of the boy as “inhuman and degrading”.
This case highlights the need for autism, learning disabilities, learning difficulties and general disability, training for police officers.
It is important:
that we accept that this is a national problem and a national scandal, where people with learning disabilities and difficulties are having dreadful experiences because of bullying, verbal & physical abuse and intimidation;
that there needs to be a clear definition of disability hate crime, which encompasses people with learning disabilities and difficulties, and that disability hate crime becomes a specific criminal offence;
that police forces around the country accept this is a problem that needs to be dealt with;
that there is a proper recording method when such crimes occur;
and that we urge police forces and police and crime commissioners to take learning disability and difficulty hate crime seriously in their individual force areas,
to ensure that people with learning difficulties and disabilities are protected from this unwanted and unwarranted harassment, physical harm and mental torture, which can often make lives misery and indeed lead to tragic consequences.