The number of cases of disability hate crime prosecuted in court has plunged by nearly 40 per cent in just one year, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures have revealed.
The fall appears to be the result of a steep fall in the number of cases referred to prosecutors by police forces, with one leading disabled campaigner saying the figures showed the police “failing disabled people yet again”.
It is the third year in a row that the number of disability hate crime prosecutions has fallen steeply and the figures have caused alarm among disabled campaigners.
The fall, from 579 prosecutions in 2018-19 to just 360 in 2019-20, comes as new Home Office figures show that the number of disability hate crimes recorded by police forces in England and Wales has continued to climb.
It means that the number of prosecutions as a percentage of the number of recorded disability hate crime offences has fallen from 19 per cent in 2016-17 (1,009 prosecutions and 5,254 recorded offences) to just four per cent (360 prosecutions and 8,469 recorded offences) in just three years.
The CPS report also shows that there were just 292 convictions for disability hate crime in 2019-20.
CPS has passed figures to Disability News Service (DNS) showing that the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police forces for a decision on whether to charge the alleged offender has fallen every year for the last five years.
In 2014-15, there were 924 cases passed on by the police, but this had fallen to 367 by 2018-19 and fell again to 320 in 2019-20.
CPS is continuing to offer support to the National Police Chiefs Council in its efforts to “understand” the fall.
A CPS spokesperson said: “If a disability hate crime case meets our legal test we will always seek to prosecute, however, we are demand-led and can only prosecute cases referred to us by the police.”
He said the continuing falls in referrals since 2014-15 “has had an impact on our prosecution figures”.
He said: “Despite this, last year we secured 292 convictions out of 360 disability hate crime prosecutions.
“We would urge any victims of these sickening offences to come forward and report.
“CPS areas have been encouraged to offer support to local police forces to improve understanding of this fall in receipts.”
One positive figure in the CPS report was that its conviction rate for disability hate crime offences rose from 72.4 per cent in 2018-19 to 81.1 per cent last year.
Anne Novis, chair of Inclusion London, a leading expert on disability hate crime and an adviser to the Metropolitan police and the CPS on hate crime, said the figures showed police services across England and Wales “failing disabled people yet again” and “allowing perpetrators to get away with harassment, abuse, hostility and worse”.
She said forces were failing to continue successful projects on disability hate crime that had been “initiated more often than not by disabled people”.
She added: “If we try to report, we have to deal with officers with little training and awareness of disability hate crime, often having to tell them what our rights are, what disability hate crime is.”
Novis also said that police officers were removing markers from reports which showed that offences should be treated as disability hate crimes.
She said this leads to poor investigations, offences being treated only as “anti-social behaviour” and then a lack of evidence that a hate crime has been committed when police reports are passed to CPS.
New figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) were also released by the Home Office this week (see appendix table seven).
But although they suggested that actual disability hate crimes experienced by disabled people (rather than those reported to the police) had remained roughly stable when comparing the period 2015-16 to 2017-18 with the period 2017-18 to 2019-20, the Home Office made it clear that the two sets of data could not be compared because of a change in methodology.
David Wilkin, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and author of a book on disability hate crime on public transport, said: “Whilst data from the victim and perceptions survey (the CSEW) do not offer clarity regarding disability hate crime it is again obvious from police recorded incidents that hate crime is on a continuously rising trend.
“As these are seemingly not being passed on to the CPS for threshold and public interest tests and ultimately prosecution, the police are therefore evidently sitting on these cases.”
Last year, a CPS spokesperson told DNS 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”.
The Home Office refused last year to offer any explanation for the fall in cases passed to CPS by the police, or to say if this was due to a fall in police numbers, or if the Home Office was concerned by the drop.
This week, it again refused to offer any explanation for the fall, or to say if this was due to a fall in police numbers, or if the Home Office was concerned.
A statement by a Home Office spokesperson failed to mention disabled people or disability hate crime.
He said: “All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable.
“The government takes this issue very seriously, which is why we published the hate crime action plan which has helped improve the police response to, and public awareness of, all forms of hate crime.”
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