The criminal justice system is failing to “recognise, accept or challenge” disability hate crime despite its prevalence in society, a report has found.
The study by Scope, Disability Now magazine and the UK Disabled People’s Council, highlights a widespread lack of understanding among police, lawyers, judges and the media of how and why disabled people are targeted.
In 2007-8, just 141 incidents described as having a disability element were successfully prosecuted, compared to 6,689 racial incidents and 778 homophobic incidents.
This is despite the “widespread” occurrence in the UK of disability hate crime, the report said.
Though not a specific offence, a disability hate crime – any crime wholly or partly motivated by hostility to someone on the basis of their disability – must receive a tougher sentence.
But victims are sometimes reluctant to come forward because they do not understand the concept of disability hate crime themselves, while offences which are reported are seldom investigated or prosecuted as such.
Evidence from a Disability Now study of 50 assaults and murders of disabled people showed that only one was investigated as a disability hate crime.
Instead, police often describe attacks as “motiveless” and judges routinely call victims “vulnerable”.
“It’s easier to prove a crime is motivated by a disabled person’s vulnerability rather than hostility,” the report’s author, Katharine Quarmby, said.
The director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, admitted that disability hate crime was an area of “poor performance” for the Crown Prosecution Service.
Some of the most shocking hate crimes occurred despite social care professionals being in contact with victims.
The report calls for immediate guidance for police, prosecutors and judges on recognising the unique characteristics of disability hate crime stronger partnerships between police forces and local authorities to identify low-level crimes which could escalate into serious incidents and training for social care professionals in identifying early warning signs.
Offender behaviour programmes and reviews of violent deaths of disabled people would help the Home Office establish offender profiles and increase their understanding of disability hate crimes. the report added.
• Report from www.communitycare.co.uk/hatecrime