Two court cases involving prolonged, violent attacks on disabled people have again exposed problems within the criminal justice system over its treatment of disability hate crime.
In one case, a judge refused to treat a case in which four people subjected a young woman with learning difficulties to a sustained period of torture – including branding her face with a hot iron, slashing her with a knife, smashing her over the head with dinner plates and beating her with a saucepan until the handle broke off – as a disability hate crime.
The man and three women subjected the woman – who considered them to be her friends – to the series of brutal beatings last September in Torquay, Devon. Three of them were jailed for eight years for assault and false imprisonment, while the other received three years.
Detective Inspector Chris Yarwood, of Devon and Cornwall police, said officers investigated the case as a disability hate crime, while evidence to show it was motivated by disability-related hostility was presented to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
He said he was particularly keen for that to happen because of “quite striking” similarities with the horrific case of Steven Hoskin, a man with learning difficulties from Cornwall, who died in 2006 at the hands of “friends” who abused and humiliated him and treated him as a slave, before forcing him to plunge to his death from the edge of a viaduct.
A CPS spokeswoman said the violence inflicted on the Torquay woman was treated as a hate crime because there was evidence of disability-related hostility and the offences “displayed many of the elements that are common in cases of this type, namely the exploitation of a friendship with the victim and sustained group violence”.
But she said the judge decided that the CPS had not proved the offences were disability hate crimes under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, so did not increase the sentences.
In the second case, Kenneth Oakes, who had learning difficulties and visual and speech impairments, was repeatedly beaten up by Amendeep Singh Rai, and left with 43 rib fractures following at least four vicious attacks over three weeks.
Oakes died on 28 January 2010 as a result of injuries he suffered in the last attack in Rai’s flat in Stanley Street, North Shields, just hours after the two men had shared a takeaway.
Northumbria police said Oakes, who worked for Rai’s father, was “beaten to death by a man he believed to be his friend”, and was a victim of “extreme bullying against a vulnerable person”.
Rai was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter, but the police and CPS admitted that they had not treated the case as a disability hate crime.
The CPS claimed it was clear from early in the investigation that Rai’s motive was financial, as he was angry that some of the cannabis plants Oakes had been growing for him were missing.
A CPS spokeswoman said: “We considered the circumstances of this case carefully to establish whether or not disability-based hostility was a factor in the case. In this case there was no other evidence [other than Oakes being a disabled person] which would lead us to treat the offence as a disability hate crime.”
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he found both cases “distinctly disturbing”, and said they proved the criminal justice system was “still not getting its act together”.
He said: “The kinds of responses we are getting make it more difficult to tell disabled people to come forward with confidence [to report disability hate crimes] because the system itself is not confident. I find it very disconcerting.”
Meanwhile, Greater Manchester CPS has successfully applied for an increased sentence under section 146 in the case of a woman attacked in an Oldham pub because she had a facial disfigurement.
Rachel Rooney, 31, of Capesthorne Drive, Oldham, taunted Chantelle Richardson about her appearance on 4 September last year, before punching her.
The CPS said Rooney’s actions were “clearly motivated by hostility towards Chantelle’s disability” so it asked the court to consider an increase in her sentence. The judge agreed and jailed Rooney – who had admitted an assault charge – for eight months.
17 March 2011