New fears have been raised about the continuing failure of the criminal justice system to respond to disability hate crime, after a police force and prosecutors came to opposite conclusions about the same case.
Craig Kinsella was kept as a slave in a garage by a Sheffield family, beaten on a daily basis for more than five weeks, and forced to scavenge for food.
Kinsella, who has learning difficulties, was kept in “squalid” conditions for more than five weeks by three members of the Rooke family.
But South Yorkshire police failed to treat the repeated, targeted, violent offences against Kinsella as potential hate crime.
This week, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) told Disability News Service that the first lawyer to review the file of police evidence came to the opposite conclusion and flagged the case as a possible hate crime.
A CPS spokesman said: “The decision was made because the reviewing lawyer considered that the offending could at least in part be explained by the fact that the defendants took advantage of the victim’s learning difficulties, therefore demonstrating a degree of hostility.”
He declined to comment on why the police had reached a different conclusion.
A spokeswoman for South Yorkshire police claimed that Kinsella’s “medical background” was “fully explored and considered” during the investigation and that there was “no evidence to identify he suffered from any disability”.
She added: “All available evidence was put before the court, which identified that the victim did not have a disability nor was he perceived by any persons involved in the investigation to have a disability.”
So far, CPS has insisted that its lawyers treated the case as a disability hate crime, but that it would “need more time to look at the other points raised by the police”.
South Yorkshire police has been unable to explain why its account of the case differs so clearly from the CPS position.
Even though CPS treated the case as a hate crime, and therefore asked for the sentence to be increased under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, the judge failed to do so.
The Conservative attorney general, Dominic Grieve, is now considering whether the sentencing of David Rooke should be referred to the court of appeal as potentially unduly lenient.
Rooke was jailed earlier this month for six-and-a-half years, after admitting a charge of false imprisonment and five counts of actual bodily harm. The 44-year-old was also ordered to pay £15,000 compensation to Kinsella.
Rooke’s wife Donna, aged 40, admitted a charge of battery and was jailed for four months, while their son Jamie, 19, pleaded guilty to five counts of actual bodily harm and a charge of affray, and was given a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence. Their sentences are not being considered by the attorney general.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN), said he was “very deeply disturbed by the misinformation we are receiving about the Sheffield case”.
He said: “There are too many issues of late where there are contradictions of procedures in charging disability-related incidents. It would be rather nice if we started getting consistency.”
Meanwhile, DHCN and Disability Rights UK this week began a series of events aimed at increasing the number of disabled people’s organisations running “third party reporting centres”, which allow disabled people to report disability hate crime.
The free events are being held in Birmingham on 29 January and Sheffield on 6 February, while the first was held this week in Bristol.
Brookes said that when a third party reporting centre was set up in his home town of Blackpool, it had led to an increase of 205 per cent in the number of offences and incidents reported by disabled people.
He said: “This is because disabled people are talking to disabled people and feeling confident that they are being listened to at a centre which is aimed at supporting disabled people.”
23 January 2014