Hate crime failure by police was ‘institutional disablism’


The authorities’ failure to protect the family of Fiona Pilkington from a ten-year hate crime campaign was “a staggering betrayal of trust”, according to disabled campaigners.

An inquest jury found that Pilkington committed suicide and unlawfully killed her 18-year-old daughter, Francecca, by setting fire to their car in a layby in October 2007.

The jury heard that the family, from Barwell, Leicestershire, had been the victims of a sustained hate campaign led by a local gang, which included verbal abuse, stones and eggs being thrown at their house, and fireworks being pushed through their letterbox.

The harassment was often targeted at Francecca, who had learning difficulties, and her brother, who has dyslexia.

Pilkington, her relatives and neighbours made 33 calls to the police, but were not taken seriously and the harassment was never treated as a potential hate crime.

The jury said the failures of the police, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council and Leicestershire County Council contributed to Pilkington’s decision to kill herself and her daughter.

Julie Newman, acting chair of the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council, said the failure to treat the offences as hate crimes was “outrageous” and indicates “institutional disablism”.

She said: “We have a list of casualties [of disability hate crime]. How long does the list have to be before something changes?”

Newman said the case illustrated the need for third party reporting centres, run by disabled people’s organisations, for victims of disability hate crime.

She said disabled people need to educate themselves “that these things are not OK” and that “what they have been experiencing is hate crime”.

The disability campaigning network RADAR said the fact that the “thugs” involved had “suffered no consequences” would “strike many disabled people as a staggering betrayal of trust”.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said: “We need strong police response to hate crime, as this tragic case demonstrates.

“But we also need schools, local authorities, housing organisations and others to take positive action to tackle bullying and harassment before it ever gets to major hate crime.”

When asked whether the force now recognised the harassment as a disability hate crime, a Leicestershire police spokeswoman said “some” of the incidents were now recognised as “potentially motivated by prejudice towards the family due to their disabilities”.

But she added: “Agencies at the time did not recognise the vulnerability of the family or nature of the prejudice that may have been involved.”

29 September 2009

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