Hate crimes against disabled people soar to a record level

'Anti-scrounger' rhetoric blamed for doubling of offences since 2008 financial crisis

The number of disability hate crimes reported to police has reached a record high, sparking concerns that the Coalition's "anti-scrounger" rhetoric is fuelling hostility to the most vulnerable members of society. A total of 1,942 disability hate crimes were recorded by police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year.

That figure, based on Freedom of Information answers supplied by 43 of 44 forces, represents a 14 per cent rise on 2010. Disability hate crime has doubled since the start of the financial crisis in 2008. Despite the rise, the number of people convicted for the crime actually fell last year. Only 523 people were found guilty of a disability hate crime in 2011, The Independent has discovered, down 5 per cent from 2010. It suggests that barely one in four reported crimes leads to a conviction – a ratio that got worse last year.

Charities expressed grave concern at the rise in reported incidents. Guy Parckar, head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: "The impact of hate crime simply cannot be overestimated, and these figures suggest that police authorities and local and central government must all look again at what they are doing to tackle disability hate crime."

While the Association of Chief Police Officers says the rise in cases can be explained in part by efforts to encourage more victims to come forward, many disability groups fear the figures reflect society's growing antipathy towards the disabled community.

"There are historical parallels," warns Katharine Quarmby, the author of Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People, who has grown alarmed by the levels of "benefit scrounger" abuse aimed at disabled people. "If you have a group that is blamed for economic downturn, terrible things can happen to them."

Last year the Glasgow Media Trust found the public believed between 50 and 70 per cent of those on disability benefits were fraudulent. The actual number is likely to be between 1 and 2 per cent. The same report found that there has been a tripling in the use of words such as "scrounger", "cheat" and "skiver" in tabloid stories on disability in the past five years.

"Iain Duncan Smith [the Work and Pensions Secretary] is saying 'We're going to push through these benefit reforms' and hinting strongly that lots of people on disability benefits are scroungers," Quarmby says. "That kind of rhetoric leads to disability hate crime on the streets."

Disability charities receive a constant flow of reports about incidents that are never reported to police – from families who have been forced out of their homes by relentless targeting, to disabled teenagers who avoid groups of strangers for fear of what might be said to them.

Campaigners fear that disability hate crime prosecutions are being undermined because of a perception in the criminal justice system that evidence given by mentally disabled people is unreliable.

Jo Davies from Mencap said: "If someone with a learning disability is on a witness stand being pressed for certain details, they may end up being confused by the cross-examination. And then different elements of the case can fall apart."

Mencap calls for more support for disabled witnesses, such as better pre-trial preparation and more opportunities to give evidence via video link.

Case study: Since the attack I think to myself all the time, why me?

In March 2011, four people were sent to prison for a total of 27 years after attacking Louise Hewitt. It was one of the most brutal cases of disability hate crime ever to come to court. Here she tells her story.

 

When I was eight my mum gave me up to foster care. I had an assessment a few years later which said 'you have moderate learning difficulties'. That's the category they gave me.

After 10 years with my foster family, I went to a special boarding college then into supported housing. I eventually moved to Torquay, which is where the attack happened.

I visited a friend one day and there were these homeless people there, one of whom was called Karl. They told me they didn't have anywhere to live, so I let them stay in my house share for £50 a fortnight.

One afternoon we all had a drink at the house of a woman called Maryanne, who had been going out with Karl. He asked me if she was cheating on him. I said yes. I was telling the truth, but she denied it.

Both of them kept shouting at me 'you're lying, you're lying'. Everyone was egging on everyone else to throw in the first punch. Then Maryanne lunged at me, got her stiletto and hit me in the face. I tried to get away but they wouldn't let me. They kept punching and kicking me.

Then I was frog-marched to a house next door, where I was held hostage again. They locked the doors and shut all the curtains. Karl was standing near the door giving orders of what to do to me. I can still see myself sat in that room. I was beaten with saucepans and plates. They dumped a big plant pot over my head. They broke my nose. They cut me with a kitchen knife behind my ear and on my arm. One of them tried to strangle me.

When the case eventually came to court, I went along for the verdict. All I heard was each person's name and the years they got each, and I thought, 'Yes, I've won this one'.

Since the attack, I think to myself all the time 'why me?' Is it because I'm kind-hearted or because I'm vulnerable? I don't like meeting new people now. I feel uncomfortable. I have nightmares.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas