Police, prosecutors and magistrates have won praise for using hate crime legislation to increase the sentence imposed on a hairdresser who shaved an offensive word into the hair of a man with learning difficulties.
The man had visited the Jam Cut salon in Stapleton Road, Bristol, to have his hair cut, and thought hairdresser Michael Campbell was shaving a pattern into the back of his head.
But the man later attended church and was told the word “fool” had been shaved into his hair.
Campbell was arrested and later convicted of common assault. He has now been sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work, and has been ordered to pay compensation and court costs.
The sentence was increased by magistrates through the use of section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for stricter sentences for disability hate crimes.
Campaigners have repeatedly highlighted the failure of the courts, police and prosecutors to take advantage of section 146 to impose harsher sentences for disability hate crime.
Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and author of the ground-breaking Scapegoat, which investigates disability hate crime, said: “I’m really heartened by the fact that Avon and Somerset police treated this degrading attack as a disability hate crime and that the perpetrator received a stiff sentence.”
She said that too many disabled people were seen as “fair game for ridicule”, and added: “This kind of crime is unacceptable and it’s good to see that police and prosecutors treated it seriously.”
Detective Constable Mai Wong, of Avon and Somerset police’s hate crime unit, said: “Avon and Somerset police take hate crimes extremely seriously and will thoroughly investigate all reported incidents.”
But she said that some hate crimes were not reported because the victims did not have the confidence to contact the police.
She added: “I hope that this case will encourage victims and their carers to report incidents, knowing we will listen to them and thoroughly investigate their concerns.”
Barry Hughes, south west chief crown prosecutor, said: “The Crown Prosecution Service identified this as a disability hate crime when we made the charging decision and made sure we highlighted it as such when we prosecuted it in court.
“We are pleased that the court recognised this offence as a disability hate crime and that the sentence was uplifted accordingly.
“The CPS will robustly prosecute offenders who target disabled people in this way. We will draw this to the court’s attention as an aggravating factor under general sentencing principles, which allow for a more severe sentence in these circumstances.
“Harsher sentences send a clear message that disability hate crimes are serious offences which will be punished accordingly.”
9 November 2011