A police force that failed to treat a disabled man’s “years of torment” at the hands of local youths as disability hate crime has been heavily criticised by the police watchdog, and hate crime campaigners.
David Askew, who had learning difficulties, 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.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found 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.
But the IPCC said in a report that there had been a “total failure” by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) to recognise and respond to any of the incidents as disability hate crimes, even though the force had made tackling hate crime a priority in 2007.
Neighbourhood police officers, who had showed “genuine concern” for the family, had their “hands tied” by “organisational shortcomings” within GMP, said the IPCC.
Every time the family made a new emergency call, it was dealt with as a new incident, with no recognition of the family’s “vulnerable” situation, so the GMP officers who responded were not aware of the history of their ordeal.
Disabled campaigners said they were “deeply dismayed” by GMP’s failings.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said the case again showed the “serious gaps in the criminal justice system”.
He said: “When so many people have evidence, which was clear and unmistakable, and yet no one works together, there is little wonder that the criminal justice system is not held in high regard by disabled people.”
Mark Shrimpton, deputy chief executive of RADAR, added: “Once again, it seems everyone ‘knew’, but no one ‘did’.
“Disabled people face hate crime on a daily basis – anything from name calling and spitting through to murder – and there is a systemic failure on the part of the relevant authorities to tackle these hideous crimes.”
The case has clear echoes of that of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter Francecca after years of harassment and abuse from a gang, much of it targeted at Francecca, who had learning difficulties.
Despite 33 calls to the police, Pilkington’s complaints were never treated as potential disability hate crimes.
In the David Askew case, the IPCC said the failure to treat the offences as disability hate crimes meant there was “never the possibility to deal with the incidents at a more strategic level as a priority”.
IPCC commissioner Naseem Malik said the Askew family had been left with “a sticking-plaster solution when the matter needed extensive surgery”.
And instead of trying to tackle the perpetrators, GMP and other agencies “took the easier route of regarding Mr Askew as part of the problem and trying to focus on changing his behaviour”.
In another echo of the Fiona Pilkington case, the IPCC found that none of the various agencies involved had recognised the need to work together “consistently, cohesively and robustly” to solve the Askew family’s problems.
Assistant chief constable Garry Shewan, of GMP, said his force had now improved procedures on dealing with anti-social behaviour and had introduced a training package so “officers can quickly identify an incident of disability hate crime”.
And he said all “vulnerable” victims of anti-social behaviour are now brought to the attention of senior officers, while new technology ensures call handlers “can quickly identify repeat victims to make sure their concerns are taken seriously and acted on appropriately”.
22 March 2011