Some police forces are still recording as few as three or four disability hate crimes every year, according to new Home Office figures.
Despite significant public and media attention over at least six years – and an overall increase in recorded disability hate crimes of eight per cent, from 1,843 to 1,985 – many forces in England and Wales are still failing to take disability hate crime seriously.
In Durham, there were just three recorded disability hate crimes in 2013-14 (down from five the year before), while in Cambridgeshire there were four (up from just three in 2012-13), and in Cleveland there were seven (down from nine).
Other forces did far better, with Lancashire recording 118, Avon and Somerset 101, Norfolk 72, Sussex 78, and Suffolk 92.
Chief Inspector Colin McGillivray, who leads on hate crime for Durham police, said he did not know why hate incident reports from disabled people in his area had fallen, when those from other groups were climbing sharply.
Durham has seen an increase in reported hate “incidents” from 288 in 2012-13 to 434 in 2013-14, while disability hate incident reports fell from 22 to 18.
He said: “Although we have made a lot of progress with other protected groups, we have not made the progress in the disabled community that we have, for instance, in Muslim communities.”
His force is so concerned, he said, that the joint hate incident group – which includes representatives from police, fire service, probation, NHS, the Crown Prosecution Service and local councils across Durham – has commissioned research to discover what obstacles are preventing disabled people reporting hate incidents and hate crimes.
And he said the number of reported disability hate incidents had increased in the last six months, after the force began new work engaging with disability groups.
McGillivray said: “We believe there is a lack of confidence in coming forward to the police.”
He said that disabled people had also set up a pilot project called Community Hands, which aims to improve reporting and provide volunteers advocates for those having problems with hate crime.
Cambridgeshire police also accepted that it had a problem with reporting disability hate crime.
A force spokesman said: “We accept that under-reporting is a problem and are working hard to address the issue.”
He added: “We are aware that our approach needs to be adapted and are due to run a campaign soon both internally, to train officers to identify the signs at an early stage, and externally to encourage third-party reporting.
“We are hoping to follow Norfolk and Suffolk’s lead and that means working closely with partner agencies such as health and local authorities.”
Cleveland police has so far failed to comment on its figures.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said that the police forces with low levels of recorded hate crime were those that were failing to engage with local disabled people’s organisations.
He said: “Those forces that have not done that are the ones where the numbers are low. It is not a coincidence.”
The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson said the figures were “worrying” and that she would be “really surprised” if there were only three disability hate crimes in the whole of a police area in one year.
She said she believed part of the problem was that disabled people become accustomed to the “day-to-day grind” of lower-level discrimination, so that when they are the victim of a hate crime, they do not believe it is worth reporting and just think: “Why bother?”
She called for improved police training so that officers begin to understand the existence of this lower-level discrimination and realise that if a disabled person goes to the trouble of complaining to police about an incident, it is probably worth investigating.
The Home Office said it was not clear whether increases in disability, sexual orientation and transgender hate crime “reflect a real rise in these offences or whether they reflect improved identification and recording practices by the police”.
In a blog, Simon Cole, chief constable of Leicestershire police and national policing lead for disability, said the figures showed police forces were “moving in the right direction”, with nearly an eight per cent increase in reports of disability hate crime over the last year, although there was “more work to be done”.
He also urged disabled people to report hate crimes by calling their local force on 101 or by using the True Vision website.
23 October 2014