Mother of man killed in 'disabled hate crime' says he just wanted to make friends

Lee Irving, who had learning difficulties, was found dead on Saturday morning

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A young man with learning difficulties who police believe may have been killed in a disability hate crime “just wanted to make friends”, his mother has said.

Lee Irving, 24, was found dead on a grassed area next to a footpath popular with dog walkers and cyclists in Fawdon, Newcastle, on Saturday morning. He had died of chest injuries.  Six people have been arrested on suspicion of murder and are in custody.

His mother Beverley Irving, 42, spoke of her devastation at his death – and revealed that she first found out that something had happened to him via Facebook.

“With Lee having learning difficulties I always tried to protect him but it was always a case of what people tried to do to him,” she told the Newcastle Chronicle.

“He was a lovely, lovely person. He was harmless, he just wanted a friend,” she added. Despite his learning difficulties, her son used to enjoy going ice skating, attending the cinema and playing with the family’s dogs Roxy and Reggie, she added.

Police-Tape-Getty.jpg
Four men and two women have been arrested on suspicion of murdering Lee Irving, ranging in age from 20 to 50 years old (Getty)

Losing her son is the second recent tragedy for Ms Irving – she is already mourning the loss of her boyfriend, who was found dead in bed last month.

Ms Irving added: “I got a message on Facebook expressing concern for Lee on Saturday so I rang the police, and about one hour later, that’s when they came and knocked on my door.”

Hours later, Ms Irving posted on Facebook: “my son been killed the day off a bunch of fkn bully he had the mind of a eight year old” (sic).

She described the horror of having to identify her vulnerable son’s body. “I identified him and I nearly collapsed, I’ve never seen anything so terrible. He was completely defenceless. Why would anyone do that to a human being?”

 

Four men and two women have been since arrested on suspicion of murdering Mr Irving, from West Denton, Newcastle. Five have been in custody since Sunday, and a sixth person was arrested on Monday. They range in age from 20 to 50 years old.

“It’s thought the people involved in this incident are known to each other,” said a Northumbria Police spokesperson. “Lee had learning difficulties and was vulnerable. One of our key lines of enquiry is to establish whether this was a factor in his death.”

The spokesman added: “Extra officers will continue to carry out patrols in the area to offer reassurance to the local community, who understandably are shocked and appalled by this tragic death.”

News of the murder has prompted calls by disability groups for greater protection of disabled people. This comes just weeks after a joint report by the HM Inspectorates of the Crown Prosecution Service, the police, and probation, warned that victims of disability hate crimes are being failed by the criminal justice system.

24-JanTregelles.jpg
Mencap’s Jan Tregelles said: “This case shines a light on the attitudes some sections of society hold towards people with a learning disability.”

Ann Chivers, chief executive of the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, said: “Sadly, as we know this isn’t an isolated incident of the bullying and intimidation that people with learning disabilities endure. It is a horrific crime and highlights how we are failing to protect those in our community who may be vulnerable.”

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said: “This case shines a light on the attitudes some sections of society hold towards people with a learning disability, and just how far we have to go until people with a learning disability are free from such horrific crimes.”

Mr Irving’s local MP, the shadow treasury minister Catherine McKinnell, said: “My thoughts are very much with Lee’s family and friends at this terrible time, who I will of course support in any way that I can. While the police are still investigating the circumstances of Lee’s murder, we know that there has been a worrying increase in the number of people reporting disability-related hate crime in recent years.”

She added: “It’s totally unacceptable for any disabled person to be targeted in this way – whether through verbal or physical abuse, or being made to feel unsafe and intimidated in their own community.”