Justice for David Askew ‘highly unlikely’, despite coroner’s verdict


Police are unlikely to reopen their investigation into the death of a disabled man who had suffered a hate crime ordeal lasting nearly 40 years, even though a coroner has ruled that he was unlawfully killed.

David Askew, who had a heart condition collapsed and died in March 2010 soon after police received reports that youths had again been harassing him outside his home in Hattersley, on the edge of Manchester.

Following the coroner’s verdict, detectives from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) are reviewing the case, but the force said it was “highly unlikely” the investigation would be reopened unless there was dramatic new evidence.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided in July 2010 that there was insufficient evidence to bring manslaughter charges in relation to Askew’s death.

A CPS spokesman said: “Should we receive any new evidence in the future from the police or the coroner, we will of course consider it.”

Although the coroner said during the inquest that he understood why the police and CPS had not been able to bring a charge of manslaughter, he also attacked both GMP and Tameside social services for failing to take action to halt the years of hate crime.

Kial Cottingham was sentenced to 16 weeks in a young offenders institution last year after pleading guilty to harassing Askew, but he has denied being one of two youths seen on CCTV in Askew’s garden on the night he died.

Cottingham, formerly of Melandra Crescent, Hattersley, is now serving a five-year sentence for an unrelated robbery.

A serious case review into the circumstances surrounding Askew’s death concluded earlier this year that the “teasing and taunting” had started shortly after his family moved into their home in 1971.

Askew, who had learning difficulties, was a repeated victim of thefts, assaults and “tormenting” when out in the local community, and burglary, harassment and other “anti-social” incidents in and around his family’s home.

Between 2007 and 2010, 26 named young people were identified as taking part in this targeted campaign of hostility.

Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and author of the ground-breaking book Scapegoat, which investigates the issue of disability hate crime, said the Askew case showed yet again the need for agencies to work together more closely.

She urged police forces and local authorities to adopt the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) approach devised in Devon and Cornwall, which focuses more closely on information-sharing between agencies.

Quarmby said such an approach “might save another life, another David Askew”.

She said: “They have to work together, in the same room. At the moment, all the agencies are playing musical chairs and hoping they are not the ones left standing when the music stops.”

She added: “I don’t think David will get justice, I don’t think his family will get justice, but maybe the case will be the impetus for other families to get justice.”

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found earlier this year that between 2004 and 2010, Askew and his family – his mother and brother are also disabled – reported 88 incidents of targeted harassment and hostility, threats and abuse to the police.

But the IPCC said there had been a “total failure” by GMP to recognise and respond to any of the incidents as disability hate crimes.

During 2007, there were 46 incidents recorded by various agencies involving Askew and his family, including two burglaries, bricks thrown through the window on three occasions, while his glasses were broken, and he had his cigarettes and money stolen. The following year there were another 34 incidents, with another 14 in 2009.

Assistant chief constable Garry Shewan said: “In the months prior to David’s death we had already begun a major review of how we deal with anti-social behaviour, harassment and disability hate crime.

“We have learned our lessons and made significant improvements to the way we deal with these crimes.”

A spokeswoman for Tameside council said it acknowledged that “all agencies within the borough need to work more closely together to identify vulnerable people within our communities and ensure that we are effective in protecting them from harassment and hate crime”.

Meanwhile, justice secretary Ken Clarke has confirmed that people who murder disabled or transgender people in hate crime attacks will in future face life sentences with a starting point of 30 years.

Clarke announced last month that the government would address a disparity in sentencing that means there is a starting tariff of 15 years for disability and transgender-motivated murders, compared with 30 years for those with a sexual, racial or religious motivation.

The changes will be made as part of the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill.

8 December 2011

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