The police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are facing questions over why an “utterly barbaric” campaign of violence and abuse directed at a disabled mum and daughter was not treated as disability hate crime.
A family of four were jailed last week for a total of more than 46 years for imprisoning the two disabled women and treating them as slaves as they forced them to work in two flats in Coventry.
The mother and daughter were repeatedly beaten, and had to eat dried pasta, while the younger woman was so hungry she resorted to eating scraps of food from a bin.
The court heard that the family knew the two women had learning difficulties but treated them in an “utterly barbaric manner”, preventing them accessing their own home, and restricting their access to food, heating and their ability to clean themselves.
But despite the apparent evidence of disability-related hostility, the offences were not treated in court as hate crimes, so no attempt was made to seek stricter sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.
The court had heard details of a campaign of bullying, intimidation and repeated violent assaults, led by ring-leader Jean Kelly.
One of the two women was made to clean and carry out other chores at Kelly’s flat, while the other had to work at Kelly’s daughter’s flat in another part of Coventry. They were each paid one cigarette a day for their work.
Jean Kelly was found guilty of two charges under the Modern Slavery Act (MSA), as well as offences of grievous bodily harm (GBH), actual bodily harm and conspiracy to falsely imprison, after a trial at Warwick Crown Court in September.
Three other members of her family also received prison sentences, with her husband Michael jailed for 14 years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and GBH, their daughter Anastasia Hitt jailed for four-and-a-half years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and an MSA conspiracy charge, and her partner Ian Healy jailed for 14 years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and GBH.
Media reports state that Jean Kelly, herself a wheelchair-user, assaulted one of the two women with a baseball bat she called “Bob”.
She had previously been jailed for 18 months for pouring boiling water on her step-brother, who also had learning difficulties.
The judge reportedly told Jean Kelly that her behaviour “demonstrates a sustained interest by you in taking advantage of those with learning difficulties and maltreating them”, while he said the other three members of the family had sought to exploit the pair for their own gain.
But despite his comments, a CPS spokesman confirmed this week that prosecutors had not treated the offences as disability hate crimes.
He said: “The CPS takes prosecution of all kinds of hate crime, including against disabled people, extremely seriously.
“In order to prosecute a case as a hate crime there must be evidence the criminal actions are motivated by hostility towards the protected characteristic.
“In this instance prosecutors felt the facts did not allow the case to be prosecuted as a hate crime but very serious charges were brought against the defendants who ultimately received prison sentences totalling almost 50 years.
“Our thoughts are with the victims in this case and we hope the outcome offers them some comfort as they rebuild their lives.”
West Midlands police refused this week to confirm its officers’ apparent failure to treat the offences as disability hate crimes, and why they failed to do so.
The latest failure of the criminal justice system to recognise disability hate crime came just days after the CPS annual hate crime report showed that the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police forces in England and Wales plunged last year by nearly a quarter.
The number of disability hate crime convictions also slumped, from 800 in 2016-17 to 564 in 2017-18 (a drop of 29.5 per cent).
Earlier this month, a report by two watchdogs found that the work of police officers on more than half of the disability hate crime investigations examined across six sample police forces – not including West Midlands – had been found to be “unacceptable”.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…