Serious case reviews should be mandatory when vulnerable adults are murdered to help address the failure of public agencies to tackle disability hate crime.
That was a key conclusion from the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s 18-month inquiry into disability-related harassment, published this week.
Unlike in cases of deaths of children after suspected abuse or neglect, there is no obligation on safeguarding adults boards or committees to conduct serious or significant case reviews into the killings of adults at risk of harm.
Of 10 murders of disabled people studied by the inquiry, just four led to an SCR.
“Without the rigour of a detailed review, agencies are less likely to identify and learn from mistakes,” the inquiry concluded. “The failure to undertake them has contributed to the widespread ignorance of the extent and impact of disability-related harassment and the inadequate responses to it.”
The review also criticised some SCRs for focusing on victims rather than agencies’ contact with perpetrators. It pointed to the SCR into learning disabled man Steven Hoskin, who was murdered after protracted abuse in 2006, as an example that improved understanding among agencies of disability-related harassment.
Agencies also focused too much on the behaviour and perceived vulnerability of victims in their response to disability-related harassment, rather than tackling perpetrators, the review concluded.
Few safeguarding referrals in England and Wales result in a criminal prosecution, with the police tending to refer cases to social services.
This was reflected in the language used by all agencies to describe crimes against disabled people. “Abuse” was used instead of “assault” or “rape”, and “financial exploitation” instead of “theft”.
The review concluded that, for many disabled people harassment was commonplace, and public bodies ought to enact urgent reforms to tackle this.
Other recommendations included training for frontline staff in recognising and responding to disability-related harassment, improved data collection on harassment and more research into the motivations of perpetrators.
However, it warned that reform by public bodies was not enough, adding: “The bigger challenge is to transform the way disabled people are viewed, valued and included in society.”
No SCR in Brent Martin case
Brent Martin was murdered by three young people he considered friends in August 2007 in Sunderland, just three months after he was discharged from detention under the Mental Health Act.
He also had learning disabilities, was failing to take his medication and abused alcohol.
Sunderland Safeguarding Adults Board failed to commission an SCR because there was no evidence that abuse or neglect was a suspected factor in his death.
Neil Revely, Sunderland Council’s director of adults’ services, later said this was a mistake, and the board consequently expanded its criteria for instigating an SCR.
Community Care is holding a conference on supporting adults at risk on 2 November, which will consider the lessons that can be learned from serious case reviews. Book your place.
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