Ten years on, campaigners ask again: ‘If these are not hate crimes, what are?’

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Six new cases in which disabled people have been the victims of brutal and degrading assaults have cast fresh doubt on the criminal justice system’s ability to recognise, punish and prevent disability hate crime.

It is 10 years this month since journalist Katharine Quarmby and colleagues at Disability Now magazine drew public attention to the failure to deal with disability hate crime by highlighting five horrific murders of disabled people, and asking, “If these are not hate crimes, what are?”

Now Disability News Service (DNS) has had to ask that question again, in the wake of repeated failings by police, prosecutors, judges… and politicians.

Three of the six new cases, spread across England and Wales, were murders, another saw the offender jailed for manslaughter, while two victims survived the violent assaults.

One case saw a man with learning difficulties tortured for a month in a “prolonged period of sadistic torture and humiliation”, including having his teeth knocked out with a hammer and chisel, and being forced to eat one of his own testicles, before his body was dumped on wasteland.

Another saw a man, again with learning difficulties, stripped and tortured over 24 hours, in a prolonged, sadistic assault described by a judge as “gratuitous degradation”.

But in neither case did the police treat what happened as disability hate crime*.

All but one of the six cases were dealt with by the courts in the last two months, with the other crime sentenced last December.

In all of the six cases, which all led to convictions, the offences involved violent, repeated assaults on the disabled person.

Four of the victims were people with learning difficulties, while the others had long-term health conditions and physical impairments.

But in all six cases, the attacks were not treated as hate crimes by the police officers investigating the crimes, although in one of them the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) disagreed and asked the judge to increase the sentence because prosecutors believed the crime was motivated by disability-related hostility.

Apart from this one exception, in case after case the CPS has told DNS that the offences could not be treated as hate crimes because “there was not sufficient evidence to prove hostility towards disabled people”.

These cases appear to highlight how difficult it is to prove an offence is a disability hate crime under current legislation, particularly if police officers have not collected the necessary evidence.

The courts have a legal duty** to increase sentences for offences found to be motivated by disability-related hostility, under Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

But even in the one case in which CPS disagreed with the police, and treated the offences as disability hate crime, the judge is believed to have refused to increase the sentence.

The six cases suggest yet again – following many other horrific offences reported by DNS over the last eight years – that there are enduring and troubling flaws in the way the criminal justice system, particularly within the police and judiciary, deals with the most serious disability hate crimes.

The failure to acknowledge that offences were caused by disability-related hostility –described nine years ago by a director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken [now Lord]Macdonald, as “a scar on the conscience of criminal justice” – means that sentences are not increased, so there is no deterrent effect, and no public recognition of the problem.

This is likely to mean there is less pressure placed on the government and wider society to reduce the widespread incidence of disability hate crime.

Here are brief details of the six cases.

Case one: Jimmy Prout, who had learning difficulties, was found dead on wasteland near his home in North Shields in March 2016.

For months, he had been tortured by a group of people he considered his friends. He was even forced to eat his own testicle.

Two of his attackers were jailed for murder, and the other two for causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult, with sentences ranging from nine years to a minimum of 33 years in prison for the ringleader.

Northumbria police said the circumstances of the murder “did not meet criteria to be considered a disability hate crime”, and that Prout had not been targeted “because of any disabilities”.

A CPS spokesman said: “The possibility of this case being a hate crime was considered, but there was not sufficient evidence to prove hostility towards disabled people or a disabled person as a motivation.”

Case two: Craig Eade, who also had learning difficulties, was attacked in his own home, in Gateshead, over false rumours that he was a sex offender.

He was attacked with a hammer, kicked and stamped on, and strangled, and then finally had his throat cut when his killer realised he was still alive. His body was dumped in a wheelie bin.

His attacker, 36-year-old Paul Watkins, from Gateshead, admitted murdering Eade and was jailed for life and must serve at least 18 years in prison.

Northumbria Police said this case, too, “did not meet criteria to be considered a disability hate crime” because Eade was not “targeted because of any disabilities”.

A CPS spokesman said: “The possibility of this case being a hate crime was considered, but there was not sufficient evidence to prove hostility towards disabled people or a disabled person as a motivation.”

Detective chief inspector Andy Fairlamb, of Northumbria Police, said of the Prout and Eade cases: “We take hate crime extremely seriously and in any death, a routine line of enquiry is to establish if the death is related to any disability or vulnerability or is believed to be hate-related.”

Case three: An unnamed disabled man with muscular dystrophy was subjected to a “sustained and prolonged attack” by a teenager from Rhyl, north Wales, who stamped on his head, hit him with a radiator, and then smashed his head through a window.

The teenager was jailed for 32 months.

A spokeswoman for North Wales Police said: “North Wales Police can confirm that this occurrence was not tagged as a hate crime, and inquiries are underway to determine why this happened.”

She said the court was aware of the victim’s “vulnerability”, and so could have increased the sentence on those grounds – although not on the grounds of it being a hate crime – “had the judge seen fit to do so”.

Asked if the case showed that the force needed to review its procedures and policies on recognising and dealing with disability hate crime, the spokeswoman had declined to respond by noon today (Thursday).

A CPS spokesman said: “The possibility of this case being a hate crime was considered, but there was not sufficient evidence to prove hostility towards disabled people or a disabled person as a motivation.”

Case four: Wheelchair-user Manfred Jaedke, 61, from Boston, Lincolnshire, was found in July 2016 in his bungalow with 65 injuries on his body, after being savagely beaten to death by a neighbour he had been drinking with.

His killer, Vidmantas Svedarauskas, was given a life sentence, and must serve a minimum of 15 years in prison.

A spokeswoman for Lincolnshire Police said the motivation for the murder was “thoroughly explored during the murder investigation, including extensive enquiries into Svedarauskas’ background in Lithuania. 

“There was no evidence to support the murder having been motivated by hate and was therefore not recorded as such.”

She said the judge had been “very robust” in his sentencing, “stating that one of the main aggravating factors in the case was that Manfred was extremely vulnerable”.

She added: “He was elderly, a very unwell man because of his previous strokes, his heart condition was bad and he was disabled and wheelchair bound.

“He was unable to defend himself, therefore Manfred’s disability was taken into account upon sentencing.”

A CPS spokesman said: “There was no evidence to determine to a criminal standard the motive for this attack.

“Consequently, it would not have been possible to prove that it was motivated by hostility towards disabled people or a disabled person.”

Case five: A man with learning difficulties was forced into a cold bath and had his head pushed under water, was strangled with an electrical cord, and threatened with an electric drill, by two women who stripped and tortured him, in an attack that lasted 24 hours.

The man had met one of the women through an online dating site, and had thought they were in a relationship, but when he arrived at her flat, she locked the door and told him: “You’re going to die today,” before calling a friend to join her in what became a prolonged and violent assault.

He was knocked unconscious with a pole, threatened with a knife, punched, kicked and hit with a hammer and a bottle, and only escaped when an unexpected visitor saw him covered with blood and called the police.

The judge described the assault as “gratuitous degradation”. He jailed both women to two years and four months in jail.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said the offences were “initially recorded as domestic violence due to the relationship between the victim and one of the convicted women.

“At no point did the victim or anyone else state that the attack on the victim was targeted or motivated because of his learning difficulties.

“We do however recognise that the victim’s learning difficulties made him particularly vulnerable in the prolonged attack.

“The investigation was also subject to review and this did not change the recording of the offence.”

Despite the police refusal, prosecutors did treat the attack as a disability hate crime.

A CPS spokesman said: “This offence was recognised as a hate crime motivated by hostility to the victim because of his disability and at sentencing a submission was made by the CPS to treat that hostility as an aggravating factor.”

The CPS has not been able to confirm whether the judge agreed to increase the sentence.

Case six: Paul Sandford was attacked and punched to death while he was hooked up to a dialysis machine.

Again, his attacker had made unfounded allegations that the victim was a paedophile.

After the attack, Sandford was rushed to hospital with a bleed on the brain, a fractured eye socket and severe cuts and bruising to his face and hands. He died in hospital five days later.

His attacker was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for 12 years.

A spokesperson for South Yorkshire Police said: “This case was not recorded as a disability hate crime by South Yorkshire Police due to the clear wishes of the victim and statements given by him, prior to his death.”

A CPS spokeswoman said: “There was no evidence presented to us by the police of the defendant being motivated by hostility towards the victim’s disability. 

“Nor was there any evidence that the defendant demonstrated any such hostility at any point. For these reasons, there was no application for an uplift [in the sentence].”

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said the cases made “further grim reading”, 10 years on from Quarmby’s first story, while the “total inconsistency” across the criminal justice system was “appalling”.

He said he would like to see new “tighter and understandably clear” legislation that focused solely on disability hate crime, but was not convinced that that would be politically achievable.

What can be done, he said, is for MPs and ministers to “force the whole criminal justice system to comply with the current disability hate crime requirements.”

He added: “Where communities, disabled people, CPS and police work together on training and implementation and have effective and closely-monitored reporting processes then results are good, as we have generally experienced across Lancashire.”

But he said that too many parts of the country had seen “substantial reductions in diversity policing and the proper training input using the knowledge of disabled people”, and in these areas disability hate crime was “still a massive issue, as cases aren’t charged correctly”.

He said the reaction of the CPS in some regions was “still too much by the old book with clear failures to identify and promote section 146**”.

He added: “The court system in terms of disability hate crime is still a mockery and if section 146 is even mentioned, too many of the judiciary just don’t get it, or don’t want the complication, thereby creating a double whammy for the victim – that of being victim of the crime and ultimately being a victim of sloppy justice.

“Where communities, disabled people, CPS and police work together on training and implementation and have effective and closely monitored reporting processes, then results are good. 

“It can be done, but it depends on the inclusion of disabled people to create a mindset change in police, CPS and the judiciary practice, and this is where the sieve of justice is far too leaky to be of any practical use to disabled people in their seeking their legal rights.”

Anne Novis, a disability hate crime expert and chair of Inclusion London, said: “We will never give up on fighting for equality of justice for victims of any sort of disability hate crime.

“We will challenge the statutory agencies that still have not integrated the learning from too many awful murders of disabled people and the underlying perception that we are not as ‘worthy’ or ‘valued’, that pervades society and government polices at this time.

“All who deny the perception of our communities and organisations that such cases are hate crime, need to realise, we, Deaf and disabled people, are the experts, no one else!”

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said: “We have one of the strongest legal frameworks in the world to protect those who become a victim of hate crime.

“This has resulted in more prosecutions than ever before.

“The government will give careful consideration to whether the current legislation requires change following the views of the home affairs select committee in its hate crime report.***”

A Home Office spokesman said: “All forms of hate crime are unacceptable and those who commit these awful crimes should be prosecuted.

“We have some of the strongest laws in the world to tackle hate crime but it is not just about legislation.

“That is why last year the home secretary published a comprehensive new hate crime action plan that is driving forward action to tackle hate crime across government and the criminal justice system.”

Last year, DNS reported that angry campaigners had attacked that action plan for its “totally disrespectful” failure to address problems around disability hate crime.

The Home Office spokesman added: “Disability hate crime is significantly under-reported by victims, and that is why the government is working with community groups to raise awareness of hate crime and how to report it amongst disabled people, their carers and families.

“We have also asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services to assess the police response to ensure it is dealt with effectively and efficiently, and we are working with the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service to ensure that all those who commit hate crimes receive heavier sentences.”

He also pointed to new joint training between the police and CPS staff to improve the way the police identify and investigate hate crime, and a national strategy and operational guidance published by the College of Policing to ensure that police deal with hate crime effectively.

And he said CPS was working on a policy statement covering crimes against disabled people, setting out service standards expected when disabled victims and witnesses seek prosecution and attend court.

Neither the CPS nor any of the police forces involved in the six cases raised any concerns about the way the criminal justice system deals with disability hate crime in their responses to questions from DNS.

But a CPS spokesman said: “Wherever there is evidence a crime was motivated by hatred based on a victim’s disability, we will always treat it as a hate crime.

“In some cases, disabled people may be the victims of offences which do not amount to hate crime.

“In these cases, prosecutors will still present evidence of aggravating factors in court, as these will have an impact on the seriousness of the offence and any possible sentence.”

*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”

**Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 imposes a duty on the court to increase sentences for offences motivated by disability-related hostility, while the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 doubles to 30 years the starting point for sentences for disability hate crime murders

***This inquiry looked at the violent consequences of online hate crime and mentioned disability hate crime only in passing