Police have been forced to launch a major review after refusing to treat online attacks against a leading disabled activist as disability hate crimes.
And a second police force has upheld a series of complaints made by the activist, Doug Paulley, relating to the same disability hate offences.
Paulley’s email hosting provider – which is linked to his website – had been subjected to what his service provider described as a “serious” and “targeted” cyber-attack just a few weeks after he won a high-profile and ground-breaking Supreme Court ruling in January.
The Supreme Court found that First Bus had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, as a result of its failure to ensure that wheelchair-users should have priority in the use of dedicated wheelchair spaces.
But in the wake of the ruling, which received high-profile media coverage, Paulley received a flood of “very sweary” emails and online comments attacking him for taking the case.
Early the following month, his email hosting provider was subjected to a concerted and aggressive attempt to force it and his website offline, which was described by his service provider as “almost certainly a malicious attack”, and “almost certainly a targeted attack”.
Paulley (pictured) reported the offences as disability hate crimes* to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber-crime reporting centre, which is run by City of London Police.
But the force refused to record them as hate crimes, because, it said, it only deals with cyber-crime and fraud.
One senior figure in the force told him: “I can confirm that Action Fraud is only responsible for taking reports about fraud and it is not within their remit to record other crimes including hate crimes.”
But following a complaint into Action Fraud’s response, Paulley has now been told that City of London Police has launched a “full review” into how Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau deal with reports of hate crime, which is being led by a chief superintendent.
City of London Police has promised Paulley “a full explanation of what has
happened, why this is the case and any further decisions or process changes that are made following your complaint”.
A City of London Police spokeswoman said this week that the force could not comment on Paulley’s complaint as it was “currently being actively investigated by our professional standards department”, but she confirmed the review was taking place.
After the initial response from Action Fraud, Paulley decided to report the offences to his local police force, West Yorkshire Police (WYP).
But a civilian officer refused to treat the cyber-attack as a hate crime because it was a “computer misuse offence”, and she challenged Paulley over his belief that it was motivated by disability-related hostility.
Paulley was forced to complain – again – and West Yorkshire Police changed its mind and investigated both the cyber-attack and the hate mail, treating both as disability hate crimes.
One of the people who sent the hate mail was traced and dealt with through the community resolution process.
Paulley said: “The police officer offered to make him apologise but I decided not to take up that offer.
“The community resolution was that he admitted the crime, that he realised the effect and that he won’t do it in future.”
The process means the offence should appear on any enhanced criminal record check that is carried out on the man’s background if he tries to work with “vulnerable groups”.
WYP has told Paulley it will not be able to investigate the cyber-attack offence any further because of the complex nature of such attacks, which he has accepted.
Yesterday (Wednesday), the force told Paulley that four of his five complaints about the incident had been upheld.
Paulley said: “It’s ludicrous that I have had to fight for four months to get this recorded as a hate crime, in the process having to fight to get two police forces to recognise that online crime can be a hate crime.
“But it finally looks like I’m getting there: the crime has finally been recorded, investigated as far as possible, and both police forces are starting to recognise that online hate crime is hate crime and should be recognised and recorded as such.”
*The Crown Prosecution Service defines a disability hate crime as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s disability or perceived disability”.
Picture: Paulley in front of the media and watched by supporters from Transport for All, outside the Supreme Court in January