Appeal possible over ‘hate crime’ killing sentence


theweek120by150The attorney general is considering whether to ask the court of appeal to lengthen the prison sentence handed to a man who killed a disabled, gay teenager in an apparent hate crime.

Steven Simpson was celebrating his 18th birthday in his own flat last June when he was doused in tanning oil by one guest and then set alight by another of the party-goers. He died in hospital as a result of the “significant” burns he received in the attack.

Sheffield Crown Court heard last month that Simpson, who had Asperger’s syndrome and learning difficulties, had been the victim of disablist and homophobic abuse during the party in his flat in Cudworth, near Barnsley.

He had been covered in tanning oil by one of his guests, after being encouraged to strip to his underwear.

Jordan Sheard, who had crashed the party, then held a lighter to Simpson’s groin after being egged on by other party-goers. When the oil caught light and Simpson was engulfed in flames, Sheard fled the party.

Sheard, now 20, and also from Cudworth, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but was sentenced to only three years and six months by Judge Roger Keen.

It is the latest in a series of court cases in which judges have been criticised for failing to increase sentences for crimes apparently motivated by disablist hostility.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has now confirmed to Disability News Service that it did treat Simpson’s death as a disability hate crime and that its prosecutor had requested a sentence “uplift” from the judge under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, because of Sheard’s disability- and homophobic-related hostility.

The CPS has also confirmed that the judge failed to grant this sentence uplift.

In the wake of the sentencing, the Conservative attorney general, Dominic Grieve, received a flood of requests to appeal the sentence. His office is now “seeking further details” about the case from the CPS.

One of the requests for an appeal came from the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN).

Stephen Brookes, a DHCN coordinator, said the case had sparked the “single highest response” from members in the network’s four years.

He said that “police officers, legal and academic experts in hate crime, and most importantly disabled people and their organizations” had raised concerns about the sentence and the “clear failure” to treat the killing as being motivated by hostility under section 146.

Brookes added in the letter: “The unanimous reflection is that the case without any reservations or doubt demonstrated hostility by Jordan Sheard towards Steven Simpson on the basis of both his sexual orientation and disability.”

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said: “We are considering whether or not to refer the sentence in this case to the court of appeal as possibly unduly lenient.”

South Yorkshire police declined to comment.

Only last month, a report by the constabulary, Crown Prosecution Service and probation inspectorates described disability-related hostility as “the hate crime that has been left behind” by the criminal justice system.

The report, Living in a Different World, found that just seven out of 810 cases that were “flagged” as disability hate crimes by the CPS ended with magistrates or judges increasing the sentence under section 146.

3 April 2013