The Crown Prosecution Service has joined a leading disabled campaigner in raising concerns about a huge fall in the number of disability hate crime cases passed by police forces to prosecutors.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) annual hate crime report for 2018-19 revealed this week that the number of “finalised referrals” it had received from police forces in England and Wales fell by more than 30 per cent (from 754 to 516) compared to 2017-18.
This followed a similar fall in last year’s report, which saw the number plunge by nearly 25 per cent (988 to 754).
This means that the number of disability hate crime cases passed to prosecutors by police forces has almost halved (48 per cent) in just two years.
This is likely to have played a huge part in a fall of a nearly 25 per cent in disability hate crime prosecutions, from 752 in 2017-18 to 579 in 2018-19, following a similar fall the previous year from 1,009 to 752.
The plunge in police referrals comes despite another significant rise (from 7,221 in 2017-18 to 8,256 in 2018-19) in the number of disability hate crimes recorded by police, as revealed in a Home Office report earlier this month.
A CPS spokesperson told Disability News Service (DNS) yesterday (Thursday) that there was a “concern over the growing gap between the number of hate crimes reported to the police and the number of cases being sent by forces to the CPS for a charging decision”.
He said prosecutors were “working closely with the police to understand the reasons for this fall”.
Anne Novis, a disabled adviser to the Metropolitan police and to the CPS on hate crime, said the fall was due to both the impact of austerity and cuts to police funding, but also the growing negativity towards disabled people.
Novis, who is also chair of Inclusion London, said she believed cuts had led to more expensive and experienced police officers losing their jobs and being replaced by more inexperienced officers who had failed to take on the disability hate crime work carried out by their predecessors.
But she also believes that a decade of austerity has changed attitudes towards disabled people, both among the public and police officers, with the “drip, drip, drip effect of negativity” and rhetoric about disabled people who are seen as “fraudsters” and “benefit scroungers” by the government and others.
She pointed to reports by DNS on two police forces that have passed details of disabled protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions.
She said disabled people faced not only the “organisational barriers” of police not recognising disability hate crime “when it is in their face”, but also police officers who “themselves might feel the same way” in their attitudes to disabled people.
She said attitudes towards disabled people – and disability hate crime – had regressed by 10 years.
She said: “So many more organisations are doing work on disability hate crime than even three years ago, yet we are seeing the CPS figures falling. There has to be a reason for that.”
She added: “The impact of 10 years of negativity towards disabled people is hitting us worse in the last couple of years in every aspect of our lives, not just hate crime.
“It feels like we are having to fight from the beginning again.”
But she said she did trust CPS to take the issue of disability hate crime seriously, and she said the organisation continued to do “focused work on disability hate crime”.
Novis said: “This is a police issue. The police and society’s attitudes towards disabled people.”
A Home Office spokesperson declined to offer an explanation for the fall in cases passed to CPS by the police, or say whether this was due to a fall in police numbers, or whether the Home Office was concerned by the drop.
But she said in a statement: “We are encouraged that more people are willing to report hate crime and that police continue to improve their response to victims.
“Through the Hate Crime Action Plan we are working to tackle all forms of hate crime, including disability.
“This includes funding local community and engaging with stakeholders to address abuse of disabled people online.
“Our wider commitments within the action plan including a review by the Law Commission of hate crime legislation.”
The Home Office also said that figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales had estimated a 40 per cent fall in hate crime over the last decade, and that it was recruiting 20,000 more police and investing £85 million in CPS over the next two years to build capacity and ensure it can deal with cases brought by the police.
It also said that the police and CPS were continuing to work together to understand any underlying trends in the number of hate crime cases coming from the police to the CPS, including at a local level.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council refused to provide on-the-record responses to why it believed the figures had fallen so sharply; whether this was a concern; what action NPCC was taking; and whether the drop in cases passed to CPS was due to a fall in police numbers.
But assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton, NPCC’s lead on hate crime, said in a statement: “Increases in hate crime are in part due to increased confidence of victims to report to the police and continuing efforts by police to improve recording.
“However, statistics also represent real rises in hate crime, which do concern us. Police will take all reports of threats and abuse seriously and will work to improve justice outcomes for victims.
“I would encourage anyone who suffers hate crime, or receives a serious threat against them to report it to the police, either by calling 101 (999 in an emergency) or online through our True Vision web site at www.report-it.org.uk.”
A CPS spokesperson said: “We urge people to report incidents to the police so we can hold offenders accountable and victims can have justice.
“In relation to disability hate crime cases we charge in over 80 per cent of them referred to us from the police – so there is every reason for victims to come forward.”
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