Hate crime ‘must be taken seriously’


The criminal justice system must start treating the bullying of disabled people as hate crime, according to a prominent campaigner.

Anne Novis, who leads on disability hate crime issues for the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), spoke out at the start of Anti-Bullying Week.

She criticised the criminal justice system’s continued failure to address the issue, and said the police and media often downplay the seriousness of disability hate crime by describing it as “bullying” or “anti-social behaviour”.

She said that attacks prompted by the victim’s impairment should be described as hate crimes as they were “a deliberate attack on that person’s identity”, which would be treated as hate crimes if applied to any other minority group.

Novis and other campaigners have highlighted a string of murders of people targeted because of their impairments, none of which were treated as disability hate crimes.

These include the recent case of Kevin Walsh, from Warrington, who was brutally murdered in his own home by a man who “befriended” him in order to steal his disability benefits.

Even though campaigners believe Walsh was first targeted because he was disabled, Cheshire police did not treat his murder as a hate crime.

Novis said she had spoken to many disabled people about their experiences of hate crime, including a young man with cerebral palsy who was slapped in the face in the street, and a disabled man who was spat on and called a “fraudster” while using his mobility scooter.

She said disabled people were being attacked “each and every day”, and added: “This week, let’s say it how it is: we are experiencing hate crimes, and it’s about time much more was done to prevent this and support us.”

Her comments came as a Newcastle charity revealed new evidence of targeted crimes against visually-impaired people.

Newcastle Society for Blind People (NSBP) received more than £80,000 from Comic Relief to support older, visually-impaired people and offer them protection from “financial abuse”.

Through home visits, regular phone calls by volunteers and social groups – which together reach 800-900 people a month – the charity is receiving a steady stream of reports of victims targeted because of their impairment.

Heather Niven, NSBP chief executive, said they were also hearing of cases of psychological abuse and neglect.

She said people were targeting visually-impaired people in “vulnerable” situations and “taking advantage” of their isolation, with one or two new cases of “abuse” every month.

16 November 2009