Criminal justice system should do more on disability hate crime, says police expert


newslatestA leading police expert has called on the criminal justice system to do more to tackle disability hate crime.

Superintendent Paul Giannasi, a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (ACPO) hate crime group, was speaking to Disability News Service as ACPO prepared to publish its new hate crime manual, which will set out a police strategy and offer operational advice to officers.

Giannasi is leading work on the manual, which will describe the standards that every force in England and Wales should meet, and for the first time will feature extensive guidance on tackling disability hate crime.

Giannasi said there was a “huge gap” between the number of disability hate crimes recorded by police – which has settled at just below 2,000 a year in England and Wales – and the 62,000 estimated by the annual crime survey.

Even that 62,000 figure is likely to be an under-estimate, because the survey does not include residents of care homes or under-16s, with research suggesting that young disabled people are the group most likely to be affected by hate crime.

Giannasi, who also leads on the government’s cross-departmental hate crime programme, but was speaking for ACPO, said: “It shows us there is a huge gap, and a far greater gap than there is with some other hate crime, such as racist crime.”

But a recent police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) audit, carried out to discover where in the system “things were falling off the conveyor belt”, suggested that it was police officers who identified offences as hate crimes in more than half of cases.

Giannasi said there had been progress in how disability hate crime was dealt with by police since 2007 and 2008, when the issue first began to secure media attention after the deaths of Steven Hoskin, Kevin Davies, and Brent Martin.

He said: “If you start from 2008, we have come a long way, but not as far as we would want.”

And he added: “The massive progress we saw getting from 800 to 2,000 hate crimes a year seems to be levelling off, if you look at recorded crime rates.”

He said it was crucial to raise awareness and knowledge among police officers so that they understood the “nuances” and began to look for evidence of disability-related hostility, rather than just evidence of the crime that had taken place.

He also said that disabled people were far less likely than those from black and minority ethnic communities to be aware of their rights when it came to hate crime.

Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 says CPS must prove that a perpetrator either demonstrated hostility towards a disabled victim or that the crime was motivated at least partly by hostility, in order for a judge or magistrate to increase the sentence.

Giannasi insisted that this legislation was “robust”. Where it was not so robust, he said, was in how it was applied by the criminal justice system, and how the necessary data was gathered.

One of the key problems was that, even if all the 62,000 crimes recorded in the survey were reported to police, that would still only see every officer investigating an average of one disability hate crime every two years.

What the new manual will suggest is that each force considers that – even if every hate crime cannot be investigated by a specialist hate crime officer – there is at least “dedicated oversight” of every investigation by a specialist officer, such as a CID sergeant, as well as having a senior officer with strategic responsibility for hate crime.

Giannasi added: “We have got work to do in terms of the data throughout the criminal justice system that allows us to identify where those holes [in the system]are.

“Nobody at policy level would suggest we are anywhere near where we need to be.”

ACPO and CPS have also carried out an audit that will show which areas they need to concentrate on next to take their work forward.

But he said that the criminal justice system in England and Wales was far ahead of any other country in the northern hemisphere – including the US – when it came to tackling disability hate crime.

Giannasi was less inclined to focus on police funding cuts as an explanation for why progress had “levelled off” than variations in how different forces focused on the issue.

He said these figures showed the need for managers in the police – and partners across the criminal justice system and public services – to examine whether they are doing all they can to address the under-recording.

For example – and these are figures chosen by DNS and not Giannasi – West Midlands police recorded just 33 disability hate crimes in 2012-13.

But Leicestershire – which has placed a much stronger emphasis on disability hate crime since being severely criticised over the death of Francecca Pilkington and her mother Fiona – recorded 49.

Leicestershire’s budget is less than a third of the size of that of West Midlands, which includes England’s second-biggest city, Birmingham.

In some of the better-performing areas, said Giannasi, local beat officers have tried to form relationships with disabled people, for instance in day centres and residential homes, and to talk to them about disability hate crime and their rights.

London’s Metropolitan police has a budget more than 15 times bigger than Leicestershire, but only records twice as many disability hate crimes, while Gloucestershire recorded only four disability hate crimes in 2012-13, despite a budget two-thirds of the size of Leicestershire.

Possibly the most striking failure is by South Yorkshire police – criticised already this year over its failure to treat the attacks on Craig Kinsella as disability hate crime – which recorded just seven cases in 2012-13, even though its budget is far bigger than Leicestershire’s.

19 February 2014