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Hate Crime (People with Learning Difficulties and Learning Disabilities)

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2013

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require police forces to register hate crimes committed against people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities including autism; and for connected purposes.

Right hon. and hon. Members may remember early-day motion 172. It related to hate crime against those with autism, and was signed by 104 Members of this House, showing that this is a matter of concern in this place and in the wider community. I think it is safe to say that everyone in the House either knows someone personally or has met someone with learning difficulties or disabilities, yet how many hon. Members are aware of the abuse and bullying that many of those vulnerable people are subjected to on a regular basis?

The issue was repeatedly brought to my attention when I was chair of the Valuing People Now partnership board for the north-east and, more recently, during my discussions with the national and international campaigner Kevin Healey, whose autism anti-bullying campaign has been acknowledged by his 147,000 followers on Twitter. But even Kevin is not immune to cyber-bullying, to trolling and to vitriol being directed at him because of his autism.

To appreciate the seriousness of bullying and hate crime, we need only look at the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington, who took her own life and that of her daughter Francecca Hardwick in 2007, after 10 years of harassment by bullies in her neighbourhood. The case has been well documented, and the resulting recommendations are in line with what I am proposing in the Bill. A few years ago, in one of my neighbouring constituencies, Brent Martin, a young man with learning disabilities, was beaten to death by three people he took to be friends. That was a sad case in which a vulnerable individual was physically abused and murdered by so-called friends. There are ever-growing concerns that hate crime against vulnerable groups is on the rise. My only hope is that the rise is not, as many vulnerable people feel, indicative of an increasing antipathy towards people who are perceived to be different from the rest of society.

According to Home Office figures for 2011-12, there were 43,748 hate crimes recorded by the police. Of those recorded hate crimes, 82% were race-related; 10% were related to sexual orientation; 4% were religiously motivated; and 4%—only 1,474—were recorded as disability hate crimes. What we need to see happen is for offences motivated by hostility towards the disabled or those with learning disabilities or difficulties to be treated in the same way as those motivated by racial or religious hatred. The victims of these crimes are equally aggrieved and equally harmed as anyone in any other category.

I think we can all agree that we want disabled people to be protected from criminals and bullies, and in order to guarantee this, we need an effective system whereby hate crimes against these vulnerable individuals are properly reported, recorded and reviewed to combat this scourge.

I am not sure how many right hon. and hon. Members have had the opportunity to read Mencap’s revealing report “Don’t stand by: ending disability hate crime together”, which investigated how 14 police forces in the UK report disability hate crime and further highlighted how reported disability hate crime against those with learning disabilities and difficulties was significantly lower than actual disability hate crime. The report also found that, although many forces recorded disability hate crime, only one force recorded it by type of impairment—physical, sensory and learning disabilities and mental health conditions. That is concerning. As reported last year by the Director of Public Prosecutions, some force areas recorded a nil return for disability hate crime—I treat that with incredulity.

Another element found in the report, as well as in the joint review of disability hate crime, was the inability of some police officers to distinguish between learning disability or difficulty hate crime and general antisocial behaviour. In fact, Steve Ashley, programme director to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, who conducted the joint review, said that there was a lack of willingness by police officers and police staff in control rooms to put the right sort of questions to vulnerable people to establish their condition as a victim. Furthermore, improved information sharing between all agencies is essential to ensure that hate crimes against those with learning difficulties and disabilities are properly reported and that prosecutions are pursued as vigorously as racial or religious hate crimes.

It is a sad fact that all too many victims with learning difficulties or disabilities do not report to the police in the first instance. In 2010, only 1,200 cases of disability hate crime were prosecuted, compared with 48,000 racist or religious crimes. A survey by the National Autistic Society, however, revealed that 81% of respondents said they had experienced verbal abuse; 47% reported that they had been victims of a physical assault; and only 6% said they had not experienced any form of bullying or abuse because of their disability. Furthermore, 28% of respondents had experienced exploitation, theft and fraud or had had their possessions or property damaged; 24% had been victims of cyber-bullying; 65% had experienced hate crime more than 10 times; 73% did not report the crime to police, while of those who did, 54% said the police did not record it as a hate crime, and 40% said the police did not act on their report; and 62% said they did not think that the police had taken disability into account in the recording or otherwise of the crime.

That is a sample, but we should multiply that by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who are either on the autistic spectrum or have learning disabilities or difficulties—and therein lies a catalogue of untold misery. The last few statistics highlight the necessity for improved police training when it comes to identifying, first, whether a person is disabled and which type of disability they have and, secondly, whether what they are reporting is a hate crime.

Many people with learning difficulties and disabilities, including autism, find it difficult to communicate with others, and this has resulted in some quite horrific cases. You may have heard, Mr Speaker, about the teenage boy with autism who attended a special educational needs school. While he was visiting a swimming pool, staff became concerned about him, and he was physically restrained and handcuffed by police. That resulted in the family receiving damages, and the High Court described the treatment of the boy as “inhuman and degrading”. This case highlights the need for autism, learning disabilities, learning difficulties and general disability awareness training for police officers.

It is important that we accept that this is a national problem and a national scandal, when people with learning disabilities and difficulties are having dreadful experiences because of bullying, verbal and physical abuse and intimidation. There needs to be a clear definition of disability hate crime, which encompasses people with learning disabilities and difficulties, and disability hate crime should become a specific criminal offence. Police forces around the country need to accept that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with and that there is a proper recording method when such crimes occur. We must urge police forces and police and crime commissioners to take learning disability and difficulty hate crime seriously in their individual force areas.

We need to ensure that people with learning difficulties and disabilities are protected from this unwanted and unwarranted harassment, physical harm and mental torture, which can often make lives a misery and indeed lead to tragic consequences. In preparation for this Bill, I was assisted by contributions from the National Autistic Society, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mencap, Dimensions UK and a personal account from active campaigner, Kevin Healey. I place on record my thanks to all of them.

Question put and agreed to.


That Ian Mearns, Pat Glass, Mark Durkan, Mrs Mary Glindon, John McDonnell, Annette Brooke, Heather Wheeler, Grahame M. Morris, Ian Lavery, Mr Robert Buckland, Craig Whittaker and Paul Farrelly present the Bill.

Ian Mearns accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 January 2014, and to be printed. (Bill 122).