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MPs call for tougher sentences for 'hate crimes'

MPs are calling for tougher sentences for "hate crimes" committed against disabled people amid concern that they are on the increase.

An all-party group is pressing for such offences to be put on the same footing as acts of violence motivated by race, religion or sexual orientation, which would mean stiffer penalties.

The courts would have to take account of the motive when fixing the sentence. For example, a life sentence for the murder of a disabled person would attract a longer minimum jail term.

Kate Green, the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, has tabled amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill being debated in the Commons this week, which would ensure tougher penalties. Her backers include Paul Maynard, a Tory MP and Simon Wright, a Liberal Democrat.

Ms Green said the aim was to "put the Government on the spot" to ensure that the issue of crimes against the disabled are taken more seriously. She said a new approach was needed on a much wider front than sentencing.

"There is a growing problem of public hostility towards the disabled," she said. "Public agencies sometimes appear to challenge the victims rather than the perpetrators."

The move follows the tragedy of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her daughter in 2007 after being subjected to 10 years of harassment and anti-social behaviour. The family complained at least 33 times to Leicestershire Police. Although an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that the police missed several opportunities to act, four officers were cleared of misconduct.

A study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the case was only the "tip of the iceberg" because harassment of the disabled was "a serious problem." It found that many disabled people were afraid to report such abuse, fearing the consequences or that they would not be believed.