The editor of a local newspaper has angered disability hate crime campaigners by telling users of Motability vehicles that they should “hang their heads in shame” in comparison with medal-winning Paralympians.
Two editorials written in consecutive weeks by Toby Hines, owner and editor of the weekly Helston News and Advertiser in Cornwall, are the first examples seen by Disability News Service (DNS) of public figures using the exploits of Paralympians to attack disabled benefit claimants.
In an editorial on 4 September, Hines attacked “fake disabled” people, who he says have “a Motability car, blue badge, extra £100 per week of benefits, got a limp or mahoosive (sic) fat gut”.
He said such “fake” disabled people “do not work or contribute to society one iota and just sponge and bitch all day while sitting at home eating cream cakes watching Loose Women”, and compared them with Paralympians, who were “genuine people with some bad disabilities but not giving into them and actually trying to overcome them”.
Hines, who has a disabled son, added: “You can tell someone has a real disability as they deny it.”
In the second editorial, this week, he praised former racing driver Alex Zanardi, who won a Paralympic hand-cycling gold medal last week, and added: “Fascinating comparison to the people I see climbing out of motability (sic) cars in town and at Tesco who should hang their heads in shame.”
Steve Paget, chair of Disability Cornwall, said his organisation had complained several years ago to Hines about his “vitriolic and misinformed” editorials.
He said: “Having an understanding of one disability, whether yours or your child’s, does not give you a deeper insight into other conditions, so it would be interesting to know how Mr Hines feels he can spot what he terms a ‘faker’?
“In all the years that Disability Cornwall have been working with local disabled people, we can only ever recall one solitary case where it was felt the person we were advising may have had a somewhat dubious claim for a disability benefit.”
He added: “The next edition of our lifestyle magazine, Discover, features the alarming fact that hate crimes against disabled people are soaring across the country.
“Ill-judged comments such as that peddled by Mr Hines is just the sort of misinformed hysterical rhetoric we never need to see in print. A retraction is the very least Mr Hines should now be considering.”
Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime, said it was “extremely worrying” to read the two editorials.
She said: “Journalists should understand that they have a responsibility to report stories without sensation and with context – for example, pointing out that the levels for disability benefit fraud are extremely low.
“I am worried that such reporting could incite violence against disabled people and I would encourage this journalist to refrain from making claims about fraudulent claimants he cannot substantiate…”
Hines told DNS he was “quite notorious” for having a low tolerance of “false claimants”, but said he should have made it clear these were the people he was attacking in his second article.
He confirmed that he was not medically qualified, and accepted that many people with Motability vehicles had jobs.
When asked whether he was aware that many Paralympians also have Motability vehicles, he said: “I have no problem with anyone with a disability who takes what they are entitled to.
“I would be angry with people who swing the lead, exaggerate the situation, take benefits where they are probably not quite entitled or not entitled to, but then cast doubt or make it difficult for people with genuine situations.”
He said he would be “very careful not to repeat” his comment about people with Motability cars having to “hang their heads in shame”, which he said was “a mistake” that he would correct in the next edition of his newspaper.
He added: “Obviously, any Paralympian isn’t [in] a fake situation. They are a genuine illness person.”
13 September 2012