A report into how the failings of a police force led to a disabled teenager’s death should act as a “warning” to other public bodies to take action over the targeted harassment of disabled people, say campaigners.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission’s (IPCC) report criticises Leicestershire police for failing to protect the family of Fiona Pilkington from years of harassment, and for failing to recognise it as disability hate crime.
Four Leicestershire police officers will now face misconduct proceedings over their alleged failures in the case.
Pilkington killed herself and her disabled daughter Francecca in October 2007 after years of harassment and abuse from a gang in Barwell, Leicestershire, much of it targeted at Francecca, who had learning difficulties.
The 180-page IPCC report says the family contacted the police on at least 33 occasions between 1997 and 2007, while Pilkington also kept detailed notes of the incidents.
Her son, who has learning difficulties, was also repeatedly targeted.
But the IPCC said the incidents were usually dealt with “in isolation” by the police and with an “unstructured approach”, while the family were not brought to the attention of the force’s hate crime officer.
IPCC commissioner Amerdeep Somal said: “Police missed several opportunities to take robust action, inadequately investigated criminal allegations on some occasions and failed to record information on their own intelligence system.”
She added: “It is an indelible scar on our collective conscience that Fiona’s concerns were not taken seriously and that she was not given the protection that she and her children requested and deserved.
“It is vital that the police take anti-social behaviour and harassment seriously, listen to the concerns of the victims and take appropriate action.”
An IPCC spokesman said the force had failed to realise that the Pilkington family was being “specifically targeted by youths”.
He added: “We point out that research demonstrated there was a lack of national awareness by police at the time in recognising people with disabilities as targets for hate crime.
“While the investigation has underlined that this was a complex and not a ‘single-issue’ case, we believe that it has had a major impact before now in raising the awareness of police to disability hate crime issues.”
Journalist and campaigner Katharine Quarmby, whose groundbreaking book on disability hate crime, Scapegoat, will be published on 7 June, welcomed the report.
She said: “Hopefully it will provide a warning to those working in the police, social care and housing agencies that anyone who comes into contact with somebody who may be experiencing harassment may be held to account later if they do not do their job properly the first time.”
Quarmby’s book includes an in-depth look at the Pilkington case – and many other horrific disability hate crimes – and describes how the neighbourhood where the family lived has been “poisoned” by the tragedy.
Fellow campaigner Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, along with Quarmby, said the report showed yet again that different agencies must work together.
And he said it was clear that many of the agencies knew about the problems the Pilkingtons were facing, but none of them took any action.
Simon Cole, the force’s chief constable, who took over the role last year, accepted the findings and recommendations of the report, and apologised for “whatever extent the force’s actions contributed to Fiona’s mindset at the time that she and Francecca died”.
He said: “The IPCC acknowledge in their report that we have learnt many lessons from Fiona and Francecca’s tragic deaths and that we continue to make significant changes to the way we deal and respond to these types of incidents.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is about to complete an inquiry into disability-related harassment, said its own evidence shows that many other disabled people are experiencing such crimes.
It is set to make “detailed recommendations” to public authorities, including the police, as well as transport providers, to “help them to better protect disabled people”.
25 May 2011