Brewer case exposes gaping holes in legislation


theweeksubThe comments of a councillor who caused shock and outrage after suggesting that it might be a good idea to kill some disabled babies have exposed serious gaps in the law, according to a leading disability hate crime campaigner.

In an interview with Disability News Service (DNS) earlier this month, Cornwall councillor Colin Brewer repeatedly indicated that he believed there was a good argument for killing some disabled babies with high support needs, because of the cost of providing them with services.

Brewer’s comments have led to ongoing investigations by both Devon and Cornwall police and Cornwall Council.

But the council has already made clear that it has no powers to either suspend or sack Brewer, while many campaigners doubt if there is any legislation that could be used to prosecute him for his comments.

Brewer originally apologised and resigned as an independent member of Cornwall Council in February after earlier comments about disabled children became public, but decided to stand again and won re-election to the ward of Wadebridge East by just four votes in this month’s elections.

But in a lengthy interview with DNS after his re-election, Brewer suggested there was not much difference between killing a “misshapen lamb” and a disabled child with high support needs.

He told DNS: “I think the cost has got to be evaluated. It is not something I would like to do but there is only so much in the bucket.

“If you are talking about giving services to the community or services to the individual, the balance has got to be struck.”

Now Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, has said the case highlights the need for a new criminal offence of inciting hatred based on disability, similar to laws that already exist on race, religion and sexual orientation.

He said: “We know from our work through the Disability Hate Crime Network and through work with [disabled people’s organisations]that many disabled people don’t report incidents because they feel that they won’t be believed, but we are also aware of people not reporting simply because the law isn’t ‘strong enough’ to ensure real justice is the outcome.

“We call on all parties and politicians to work with disabled people to change the law to create true equality for disabled people by drafting a clear and unambiguous law relating to disability hate crime. Until this is done we will always be fire-fighting.”

He also spoke of his “dismay” that Cornwall Council no longer has the power to suspend or disqualify Brewer, due to changes introduced through the government’s Localism Act 2011.

Brookes said: “It is not acceptable in any society that a person elected in a democratic process cannot be held to account for… effectively calling for euthanasia on disabled children.”

He said: “Noting that even in the House of Commons a member can be suspended for certain inappropriate actions, I think that, in such circumstances, particularly given the level of distress and anger caused by Cllr Brewer’s clearly repeated antagonism against disabled children, the standards requirement [the code of conduct for councillors]needs urgent review and replacement.”

He was speaking days after scores of campaigners protested about Brewer’s comments outside the council’s offices in Truro.

John Wood, the council’s chair, and council leader John Pollard met the demonstrators to listen to their concerns last Friday (24 May).

The council stressed afterwards that Brewer’s comments were “the personal views of one member” and “do not represent the views of Cornwall Council, which considers the remarks made to be totally unacceptable”.

Meanwhile, the disabled curate in charge of the Wadebridge Church of England parish, said he was considering what steps he should take in the wake of Brewer’s comments, including the possibility of discussions with local councillors.

The Rev Dom Whitting also said that he would “very much like to have a conversation with Colin [to discover]where all this comes from”.

But he added: “I have not made any contact with him and he has not made any contact with me and at this stage I do not intend to contact him directly.”

He said Brewer was not a regular member of his church, but that “it would be very different if he was”.

Rev Whitting said that hearing such comments about the “downgrading” and “discrimination” of disabled people “does hurt, because I am disabled and I know other people who are”.

He said he had told people who asked him about Brewer’s comments that “any discrimination against disabled people is hurtful, whether that comes from a county councillor or a man down the street who shouts out something to you”.

He said: “Whatever context it happens in, in the society we live today, we should not be facing that.”

But Rev Whitting said he had decided not to discuss the issue in his sermons.

He said: “I am aware of the strength of feeling on both sides. I talk to both sides and I do not think it would be appropriate to say something from the pulpit, knowing that whatever side I stood on I could seriously hurt others.”

30 May 2013

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