Disabled campaigners have called for action to address systemic failings in the criminal justice system and serious failures of police leadership that have led to an “alarming” fall in the number of disability hate crime cases being prosecuted.
Since 2016-17, the number of prosecutions of disability hate crime in England and Wales has fallen from 1,009 in a year to just 345.
The key reason for the fall is a huge drop in the number of disability hate crime cases being passed by police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for charging decisions, which has fallen from 924 in 2014-15 to just 243 last year.
In recent weeks, Disability News Service (DNS) has published interviews with the disability hate crime leads of both CPS and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, with both admitting that they need to improve their organisation’s performance.
Now, two leading disabled campaigners with expertise in disability hate crime have responded to those interviews.
Dr David Wilkin (pictured), an honorary fellow at the University of Leicester’s School of Criminology, and author of a book on disability hate crime on public transport, said it was “not enough for the NPCC to admit a failure”.
He said: “Failings of police leadership were responsible for the Stephen Lawrence mis-investigations, responsible for the Fiona Pilkington tragedy and continue to be responsible for reported misogyny and other offences within some police forces.
“It is not enough that police leaders admit failure – would it not be better for them not to fail in the first place?
“We have around 30 years of experience of dealing with hate crime in the UK, it’s nothing new.
“But still, our police leaders don’t seem to get it, don’t seem to perform, and don’t seem to be able to offer change.”
Wilkin, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, told DNS: “I cringe at the thought of yet another ‘lessons learned’ speech following a disabled person being attacked.
“Perhaps it’s time to reflect on how we choose leaders within the police?”
Wilkin added: “We have reached a position where, for whatever reason, police are failing disabled people in the reporting of hate crimes.
“Whilst academics like myself are urging disabled people to report these offences, there seems little point if the police do not investigate, package these up and send them to the CPS for prosecution.
“The police are the entry point to the criminal justice system for those requiring justice – and why shouldn’t they have it?
“They are citizens, taxpayers, they live in fear, in isolation and within severe constraints.”
Wilkin said hate crimes remained “an obstacle to an everyday liveable life for many disabled people”.
He added: “They are entitled to justice and for the police to be blocking the pathway to this is unacceptable.”
Louise Holden, hate crime partnership manager at Inclusion London, said she believed the national failure by both police forces and CPS suggested “systemic issues” that must be addressed.
She said: “As with any crime, a victim needs to have confidence that they will be taken seriously, that the crime will be properly investigated, and that enough evidence is gathered to lead to a successful conviction.
“These are all things that people would expect to be happening, but we are finding that although there has been an improvement in police flagging of disability hate crime, there is not the evidence-gathering going on to pass to the CPS for prosecution.
“Whatever the current pressures are on the Metropolitan Police Service and CPS, there are so many cases that do not make it to court.
“This means so many disabled victims who have been brave enough to report, feel they are being let down.
“It sends a message to the disabled community that what is happening to you doesn’t matter, you don’t matter.”
Holden pointed out that disabled people currently have the lowest satisfaction level with the Metropolitan police of any demographic group, while recent investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct demonstrate “ableist attitudes held by police officers”, which “definitely affects our community’s trust in the police”.
She said: “I would encourage any disabled victim to get in touch with their local DDPO* for ongoing support.
“Even if a case doesn’t get to court, the impact can be devastating and long-term.
“DDPOs can help with the consequences of hate crime and help someone feel more connected and supported.”
*Deaf and disabled people’s organisation
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