Three thugs who carried out vicious attacks on young disabled men have avoided being sentenced for hate crime for the second time, raising fresh questions about the criminal justice system’s commitment to addressing targeted offences.
One prominent disabled campaigner said the case showed the treatment of disability hate crime by the criminal justice system was “a joke” and a “toothless weapon”.
Last week, Ben Dean, Keian Heap and Jack Clark, all from Bury, were convicted by a court of offences relating to a “merciless, sadistic and bloodthirsty attack” last October on a young man with bipolar disorder.
The trio had already been convicted of a separate attack on a young man with Asperger’s syndrome in a Bury park, in 2013.
Neither of the attacks appears to have been treated by the courts as a disability hate crime, which would have seen the three young men handed stricter sentences.
They are just the latest in a long line of violent, targeted crimes carried out against disabled people, which have not been treated as hate crimes by judges and magistrates, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and police forces.
In the latest attack, on 4 October last year, Dean and Clark had shouted disablist abuse outside the home of Kieran Clark – calling him a “mong” – and threw stones at his windows and banged on his door, until he came out to confront them in a bid to protect his home and pregnant girlfriend.
Following an initial scuffle in a nearby field, Kieran Clark returned home, but the gang persuaded him to follow them back out to the same patch of land.
They then hit him with a fence post, punched him, stamped on his head, and repeatedly stabbed him, in a 10-minute attack, during which he thought he was going to die.
Two days earlier, on 2 October, also in the early hours of the morning, members of the gang had again hurled disablist abuse at Kieran Clark – calling him a “muppet” and “schizo” – and threw stones at his window. The court heard that they had a history of chasing and antagonising him.
Dean, of New Cateaton Street, Bury, and Jack Clark, of Walnut Avenue, Bury, both 15, admitted wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and were ordered to serve five years juvenile detention, while Heap, 19, of Walmersley Road, Bury, admitted violent disorder and was jailed for three years.
All three defendants had a previous conviction for assaulting a young man with autism in a Bury park in 2012.
The judge told the trio that they had “targeted” Kieran Clark, and added: “There is something about people with learning difficulties that you three take a serious exception to.”
And he said it was “plain that you have no compassion for others who are different from you and those you perceive as inferior, even though they are not”.
But despite the judge’s comments, he does not appear to have increased their sentences using the disability hate crime provisions contained in section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.
Sources suggest that the judge was invited to apply section 146, and agreed to do so, while the defence barrister declined to contest the suggestion that it had been a hate crime.
But despite the judge indicating that the offences would be treated as hate crimes, he appears to have failed to increase their sentences.
There was further confusion among the criminal justice agencies when a spokeswoman for Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said the attack on Kieran Clark was initially investigated as a potential hate crime, but that officers had decided later that it was not hate-related.
A police spokesman insisted that investigating hate crime was “a priority for GMP and we have strict policies in place to investigate incidents that occur and provide support to vulnerable victims”, while the investigation “was carried out thoroughly in line with GMP’s hate crime policy”.
Stephen Brookes (pictured), a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he was “deeply concerned” with the way the criminal justice system was dealing with section 146.
He said: “It is a facility that would make people think twice about hostility towards a disabled person, but section 146 is just not being used [and so that is not happening].
“It has become a joke, almost, a dusty file on the back shelf. It is being missed either by the police, the CPS or the judiciary – each one is failing to grasp the nettle.
“Until people work together, it is a toothless weapon.
“The facility is there but nobody either is using it or they are using it inappropriately. The message that comes out is that it really doesn’t matter.”
He added: “I think the judiciary are totally and utterly inept on section 146 at the moment.
“Somehow, we have to get to the judiciary for training, but they are an elite group who say they do not need training.”
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said there were still “too many reports of courts, the CPS and the police failing to identify and treat disability hate crime appropriately”.
She said: “Labour has committed to a new specific offence of disability hate crime. We will also make changes to the criminal records framework, so hate crimes are clearly marked on the criminal records of perpetrators.
“We will produce new guidance from the Sentencing Council to ensure the appropriate use of aggravated sentencing for hate crimes, particularly for repeat offenders, and review police and CPS guidance to ensure hate crimes on social media are adequately covered.
“We also need to ensure that those working in the criminal justice system receive proper training and that monitoring systems work effectively.”