“Alarming” official figures show how police forces are repeatedly letting disabled people down by failing to investigate disability hate crime properly, leading campaigners warned this week.
They spoke out after Disability News Service (DNS) revealed how figures showed that prosecutions of disability hate crime have plunged by nearly half in just two years (from 579 to just 292), even though offences recorded by police forces are rising sharply.
The fall appears to have been caused by a drastic drop in the number of disability hate crime suspects referred to prosecutors by the police for a charging decision.
Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures show this has fallen from 924 in 2014-15 to 367 in 2018-19, to 320 in 2019-20, and to just 298 in 2020-21, across the whole of England and Wales.
Anne Novis, a member and former chair of the Metropolitan police’s disability independent advisory group, former chair of Inclusion London and a long-time campaigner on disability hate crime, said disabled people were seeing “the same lack of action” on disability hate crime that they experienced from the police in the 1990s and early 2000s.
This only changed because of years of pressure from disabled campaigners like Novis, Stephen Brookes and Ruth Bashall, and allies like journalist Katharine Quarmby.
Novis said: “We shouldn’t as a community have to keep saying to the police, ‘You’re not allowing us to access justice,’ and yet that’s what we keep having to do.
“They keep letting us down.”
She said she believed that many cases were not being investigated by experienced officers after being flagged as disability hate crimes, which meant there was no evidence to be passed to CPS for a potential prosecution.
Novis said that disabled people’s organisations and disabled activists had “worked really hard” to make the police more aware of the hate crime disabled people were experiencing, “but it’s just not happening”.
Louise Holden, Inclusion London’s hate crime partnership project manager, said the figures were “really concerning”.
Inclusion London is the lead organisation in the London Deaf and Disabled People Organisations Hate Crime Partnership, which has 24 members, and has been working with CPS to examine why prosecutions have been plummeting.
Holden said the partnership had been hearing of “disturbing cases where police officers are dismissing disabled victims’ experiences and downgrading cases to anti-social behaviour incidents, not investigating or gathering evidence and closing cases and generally providing an extremely poor response”.
She said: “This will be included in the report I am putting together to present to the London Assembly police and crime sub-committee later this year, as we also feel that the police are not listening to us and we need to go to the London Assembly to demand they hold the Met police to account and take action.
“All this points to disabled victims not getting the justice or support they deserve, and we are doing all we can to raise this issue and demand change.”
Sue Groves, the disabled chair of Medway independent police advisory group and an independent critical incident advisor to Kent police, said the figures were “alarming”.
She said she welcomed the increased reporting of disability hate crime to police but said the drop in referrals to CPS was “something that I have been concerned about for a while now”.
She said Kent police and the regional CPS had agreed to carry out a review “to establish whether there are areas for further learning or where processes in place need to be amended”.
She added: “The police and CPS have a lot of work to do nationally but this is a start.
“Other forces could do the same as a starting point at the very least, as well as acknowledge the problem.”
Yesterday, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) finally responded in depth to the concerns, two years after DNS first tried to question its press office about the falling number of police referrals to CPS.
Deputy chief constable Mark Hamilton, NPCC’s hate crime lead, said: “We are currently undertaking a national audit into hate crime, and are also planning to carry out a specific thematic audit on disability hate crime reports.
“We are already working closely with our criminal justice partners to understand the reasons behind a reduction in the percentage of crimes that go to court, including where victims withdraw from the justice process.”
He said: “Hate crimes against disabled people are a particular shocking form of crime, motivated as they are by the perpetrator’s hostility to a victim’s disability.
“Aside from any physical injuries, we know that victims of disability hate crime are often intensely traumatised by these incidents.”
He claimed that police forces “will always pursue action against perpetrators where there is evidence to do so”.
And he said: “Unfortunately, sometimes the evidence is scarce and there are no witnesses to the crime.
“Particularly in recent years, it may be the case that a suspect cannot be identified because of anonymity online, and a charge cannot be brought.
“Additionally, in some cases, for example where a perpetrator is young, a caution may be considered more appropriate than prosecution.”
He encouraged anyone who thinks they may have experienced any hate crime to report it to the police*, as soon as possible after an offence has been committed.
*Victims can report a hate crime by dialling 101 (999 in an emergency) or through the True Vision website: www.report-it.org.uk.
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