The performance of police forces across the country in providing justice for victims of disability hate crime is not good enough and must improve, the organisation representing senior police officers has finally admitted.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) admitted its failure this week, three years after Disability News Service (DNS) first began asking why the number of disability hate crime cases being passed by police forces in England and Wales to prosecutors had plummeted.
Now NPCC’s hate crime lead, deputy chief constable Mark Hamilton, has told DNS: “We do accept that these figures aren’t good enough.
“The figures do speak for themselves.”
Hamilton, who has held responsibility for hate crime within NPCC for eight years, also apologised this week for the previous failure of his organisation’s press office to respond properly to the concerns raised by DNS for the last three years.
He said he had not previously been aware of those issues, but accepted responsibility for them as NPCC’s hate crime lead.
DNS has been trying for three years to secure an explanation from police chiefs as to why the number of cases being passed by police forces to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been falling so steeply.
It plummeted by a fifth last year, despite the number of disability hate crime allegations reported by disabled people to the police in England and Wales rising by more than 40 per cent to more than 14,000.
Police forces across England and Wales passed just 243 disability hate crime cases to CPS to decide whether the alleged offender would be charged in 2021-22.
In 2014-15, 924 cases were passed to CPS, but by 2018-19 this had fallen to 367, and it kept dropping, to 320 in 2019-20, to 298 in 2020-21 and to just 243 across the whole of England and Wales last year, a fall of 18 per cent in one year.
Asked if the figures showed that police forces had been breaching their public sector equality duty under the Equality Act, Hamilton, a deputy chief constable in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, told DNS: “I am not going to argue that police services are providing a good enough response, because the figures speak for themselves, but I don’t know if that necessarily means that we are failing in our equality duty.”
He said: “The overall reason for the drop from my point of view links directly to victim confidence in the justice system and particularly to victim confidence in the police service and just generally whether people feel supported in the system.”
NPCC announced 12 months ago that it was planning a “thematic audit on disability hate crime reports” to try to understand why so few disability hate crime cases were being passed to CPS.
But a year on, the audit has still not begun, with no response yet from the Home Office to a funding bid for this and other hate crime work that was submitted earlier this year.
Hamilton suggested one of the reasons for the lack of a decision on funding by the Home Office has been the repeated changes in leadership within the government this year.
NPCC is also hoping to set up a performance unit that will examine how all hate crime is dealt with by police forces across the country, and it has carried out some audit work across hate crime strands which should provide a “foundation” for its work on disability hate crime.
Hamilton said he believed that police forces had focused their hate crime work on race and religion since Brexit, which had been “to the detriment” of work on disability hate crime.
He said: “I personally feel it has not received the focus that it should have had.”
CPS data appeared to show police referrals for charging decisions falling across all hate crime strands, and across crime generally, he said, which led to the NPCC decision to launch the audit work.
Hamilton said initial findings suggested “a lack of consistency across police services across the country around hate crime referrals”, which “has been raised with us on a number of occasions by the CPS”.
But he also admitted that NPCC does not keep data of its own on how many disability hate crime cases are being passed to prosecutors, and that it relied on CPS for those figures.
When asked why, he said: “We haven’t done it. I’m not going to create a reason why we haven’t.”
He also admitted that he had not yet seen the figures that CPS has shared with DNS.
He added: “I think that our performance around this has dropped. That is very clear.”
Hamilton told DNS that police performance on encouraging more disabled people to report hate crime had been successful over the last decade – although the levels are still too low – but he added: “We don’t know if we are doing enough to support victims at the point of report that encourages them to take a matter on to the criminal justice system.
“What we have seen is a dramatic increase in overall hate crime reporting… what we haven’t seen in policing is a significant improvement in the outcome rate for hate crime.”
He said this was “far less positive” and “remains a major concern” and that NPCC accepted that “we need to do more with it” following a period when – pre-Covid – the CPS had been “working to upskill prosecutors around the country specifically to the understanding of disability hate offences”.
He added: “We still have a very significant mountain to climb here in terms of improving confidence.”
Hamilton said he did not believe there had been Home Office pressure on police forces to pay less attention to hate crime issues, despite highly-public comments made by home secretaries Suella Braverman and Priti Patel about the need to focus less on “woke” issues and “diversity and inclusion”.
He said: “The Home Office and the home secretary are entitled to their position.
“I am aware of the comments that have been made in the public arena, just like everybody else. I am aware of what’s been said, and I am aware of the debate.”
But he said that no force had reported to him that they had been pressured to ease off their work on hate crime.
He said he did not think the comments had had a “direct influence” on police forces, although they would be “aware of the commentary that has been made”.
The Home Office refused this week to say if the delay in providing the funding to NPCC was connected with successive attacks from home secretaries on “woke” issues, or if it was concerned by the drop in cases passed to CPS by police forces.
But a Home Office spokesperson said in a statement: “Hate crime is a scourge on communities across the country. It does not reflect the values of modern Britain.
“We expect the police to fully investigate these hateful attacks and make sure the cowards who commit them feel the full force of the law.”
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