Police criticised over hate crime murder claim


Campaigners have questioned the latest failure by a police force to treat the brutal murder of a disabled person as a disability hate crime.

Kevin Walsh, from Warrington, was attacked in his own home by his “friend” Andrew Blaine, 25, also from Warrington.

Walsh, who had a physical impairment, was repeatedly stabbed and punched, and suffocated, in a sustained attempt to kill him, before having his throat cut.

Blaine had been entrusted with the details of Walsh’s post office account after befriending him, and used this access to steal his disability benefits.

Cheshire police believe Walsh was probably killed because he confronted Blaine about stealing his money, at the end of an evening spent drinking and watching television together.

Blaine pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison, with a recommendation that he serve at least 17 years.

One of the “aggravating” factors taken into account in setting the sentence was that Walsh was “vulnerable”.

But disabled campaigners have again criticised the decision to describe a disabled person subjected to a violent crime as “vulnerable” rather than as a hate crime victim.

It follows a string of cases in which disabled people have died violent deaths that were motivated by disability hatred but not treated as disability hate crimes by police.

Anne Novis, who leads on hate crime issues for the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council, believes Walsh was murdered because he was disabled.

She said: “If you are picked on just because you are a disabled person, if you are targeted because you are perceived as vulnerable, you are being targeted because you are disabled, then it is a hate crime.

“The police are changing, but they need to change quicker.”

Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “To me as a disabled person, such a crime which specifically targets the individual in terms of exploitation and opportunism does send the message that the crime was motivated because of disability.”

Cheshire police said Walsh was “vulnerable” and “frail” and that nothing emerged during their investigation to suggest a hate crime, with no indication that Blaine “had any view on Kevin’s disability”.

Bernard Byrne, district crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Where there is evidence available to prove that an offence is aggravated by hostility based on the victim’s disability, we will do our utmost to ensure that that evidence is put before the court for sentencing purposes.

“In this case, we considered very carefully whether we could prove that the assault was motivated by hostility based on Mr Walsh’s disability, but we decided we had insufficient evidence to do so.”

22 October 2009