Disability hate crime ‘slipping down agenda’


theweeksubDisabled people and their organisations need to work harder to push the issue of disability hate crime back up the political agenda, according to a leading activist.

Ruth Bashall, a leading campaigner on disability hate crime and now director of the Stay Safe East project, which supports Deaf and disabled survivors of domestic violence and hate crime in east London, said the issue was no longer a priority for politicians.

She told lawyers and fellow disabled leaders at a meeting of the Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations Legal Network that there had been “quite a backlash”, while the political argument that “hate crime doesn’t really exist has started to creep back again”.

She said it had taken Stay Safe East three years to build up partnerships with the police, local council and other agencies.

She said: “One of the biggest problems is getting any respect from people as disabled people. We are patronised, we are ignored, we are dismissed probably at least three times a week between the two of us.”

Bashall said police attitudes were still “incredibly entrenched”, and she pointed to the need for training for individual officers.

But she said that regular meetings with the local police borough commander in Waltham Forest had “started to really make a difference, and is putting the hate crime issue and disability issues on the agenda”.

She also said that about 30 per cent of cases referred to a local anti-social behaviour panel had involved disabled victims, mostly in housing-related cases, although not all were hate crimes.

And she said the importance of campaigning on hate crime was shown by the fact that there were more disability hate crimes reported in Norfolk than in London, because of the work carried out by Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (now Equal Lives).

Bashall said: “If you do the detailed work, you can get somewhere. Supporting people to report is really crucial.”

Dale Simon, head of public accountability and inclusion at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said last year’s drop of 16 per cent in the number of disability hate crime prosecutions – from 726 in 2010-11 to 621 in 2011-12 – was “really disappointing”.

But she said the latest figures, to be published soon, would show a slight increase, and she stressed that there had been a huge rise in the previous four years from just 86 prosecutions in 2006-07.

Simon said CPS still had no idea why the numbers dropped so sharply, despite holding workshops with the police, and round-table meetings with disability groups.

She said: “We weren’t happy. We don’t know what happened. It won’t happen again because our figures have already started to go up. We are still not satisfied with the numbers.”

She compared the 726 prosecutions in 2010-11 with that year’s 65,000 disability hate crimes – according to the British Crime Survey – a figure that was itself likely to be an under-estimate.

Simon said: “At the moment there is a complete lack of knowledge among the agencies, so victims are not being directed into the criminal justice system.”

She added: “This is an area where we know we have a lot more to do.”

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said there was “massive under-reporting of disability hate crime”, often because disabled people do not realise that what they are experiencing is hate crime, while they “feel that attitudes towards them are worsening and not getting better”.

She said: “We have got a lot to do to shift that thinking.”

11 September 2013