In an interview with DNS shortly after his election in May, Collin Brewer repeatedly indicated that he believed there was a good argument for killing some disabled babies with high support needs, because of the cost of providing them with services.
His comments caused widespread outrage – and more than 180 complaints to Cornwall council – and he further angered campaigners by continuing to try to justify his comments.
Following this week’s publication of a council report into those comments – in which he accepts that a transcript published by DNS was an accurate reflection of the interview – Brewer finally announced his resignation.
In his resignation letter, he tells the council: “I consider this to be the end of the matter.”
Even during the preparation of the report, he continued to attempt to justify his views, telling a council officer that “people are still telling me that what I said is what 80 per cent of people agree with”, while claiming that his words had been “twisted and used out of context”.
Before he resigned, Brewer was “formally censured” for his “outrageous and grossly insensitive comments” and told to make a formal apology.
Among the measures taken by the council, Brewer was banned from holding a seat on any committee that might deal with issues relating to disabled children, and from council premises where services for disabled children were provided.
The report concludes that “there appeared to be a lack of understanding of the damage he had done and any real remorse for the distress he had caused”.
The council made it clear it had limited powers to act over Brewer’s comments, and would at least have recommended that he was suspended, if the government had not revoked this power in its Localism Act.
The council will now lobby the government to restore its powers to impose “meaningful sanctions” on councillors who commit serious breaches of its code of conduct.
So far, neither the Local Government Association (LGA) nor the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have suggested they would like to see councils given tougher powers in such cases.
An LGA spokesman said that “where the actions of an elected representative are called into question morally or ethically but are not illegal, it is right for local residents to decide what should happen through the ballot box”.
And a DCLG spokeswoman said that “it is not the job of government to comment on what or who the electorate vote for – that is for democracy to do – and we have to let the democratic process run its course”.
Brewer originally apologised and resigned as an independent member of the council in February after earlier comments about disabled children became public, but decided to stand again and won re-election to the ward of Wadebridge East by just four votes in May’s elections.
Devon and Cornwall police also confirmed this week that it will not be charging Brewer with any criminal offence because of “insufficient evidence”, although the comments he made in the DNS interview have been recorded as a “hate incident”.
The Brewer case is just the latest to highlight the need for stronger disability hate crime laws.
Superintendent Jim Pearce, local policing commander for west Cornwall, said the passing of the Equality Act 2010 – which expanded the number of “protected characteristics” – had been a “great leap forward”, but he said there was “probably some scope for criminal law to catch up”.
He said there was “a case to be made” for aggravated criminal offences on the basis of race and religion to be broadened out to other protected characteristics, such as disability.
The Law Commission is currently consulting on proposed changes to legislation that could make it easier for prosecutors to bring disability hate crime charges to court. The changes could also make it easier to secure stricter sentences.
The commission has suggested that crimes such as assault or criminal damage that are currently prosecuted as aggravated offences – with higher maximum sentences – on the grounds of race or religious hate could, as Pearce suggests, be extended to hostility on the grounds of disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity.
11 July 2013