Police forces trialling a new approach to anti-social behaviour should not be tempted to downgrade potential disability hate crimes, says a leading disabled activist.
The government has launched pilot projects across eight forces, aimed at changing the way the police respond to calls about anti-social behaviour.
The schemes should make it easier to recognise someone who has made repeated complaints, share information with other agencies, such as local authorities, and quickly identify the “most vulnerable victims”.
One of the forces taking part is Leicestershire police, which was heavily criticised over the death of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter after suffering years of targeted hostility at the hands of a local gang.
Despite repeated calls to the police, the harassment was never treated as a disability hate crime.
An inquest jury concluded that the failures of the police and other public bodies contributed to Pilkington’s decision to kill herself and her daughter in 2007.
Anne Novis, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said she welcomed any system that would help police forces recognise repeated harassment or hostility against disabled people.
But she wants to see forces – including those taking part in the pilots – recording incidents of targeted hostility against disabled people as disability hate crime and not anti-social behaviour.
She said: “I don’t want to see this distract them from the reality of hate crime and the fact that that should be investigated appropriately and quickly as hate crime.”
She also raised concerns about the government again describing disabled people as “vulnerable”.
Sir Ken MacDonald QC, then the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, said in 2008 that the use of the “vulnerable” label to describe hate crime victims meant “we are one step away from making the assumption that disabled people should expect to be attacked because of who they are”.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The call handling trials are about better protecting those most vulnerable in our communities.
“Specialist support, including hate crime advice, will be available to the eight trial areas so repeat victims are identified quickly and receive the right support.
“Where a hate crime is reported, police should treat it as such and respond appropriately.”
The trials, in Avon and Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, London, South Wales, Sussex and West Mercia will run until July.
James Brokenshire, the crime prevention minister, said: “Antisocial behaviour ruins lives, damages our communities and, at its worst, can have tragic consequences.
“It is essential those who raise the alarm and ask for help are listened to and their complaints acted upon promptly.
“It is not acceptable that those most in need either slip through the net or are plain ignored.
“The technology exists to allow agencies to introduce a smart way of handling such complaints and a simple way of sharing information – they need to use it.”
5 January 2011