Tragic deaths such as those of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter, Francecca, could be repeated because some police officers are too embarrassed to ask victims of crime about their disability, inspectors have warned.
Disabled people told a review looking into disability-related hate crimes that the police service had become “too sensitive about causing offence”. Findings from police inspectors, the National Probation Service and the Crown Prosecution Service have suggested that both on-duty officers and control-room staff are reluctant to ask victims of crime if they are disabled.
The joint review was conducted in the wake of the tragic case of Ms Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick in 2007 following years of harassment from local youths in Barwell, Leicestershire.
In 2011, police were found guilty of failing to take “sufficient action” after receiving 33 complaints from Ms Pilkington over 10 years. It was found that no Asbos were ever applied for, information was not properly shared with partner organisations such as the local council, and police also failed to highlight the family as being vulnerable.
Steve Ashley, programme director at HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), said: “Police officers don’t like to say to people, ‘Are you disabled?’ So even in cases where they have in their mind that the person may be suffering from a disability they just seem to be embarrassed about actually asking the question.”
He added that individual forces had to “get police officers over this embarrassment factor about asking questions”.
In addition, concerns were raised about the under-reporting of disability hate-crimes. This arose from confusion over how to define such crimes, meaning they are not as easily identified as attacks motivated by race or religion. A total of 1,744 disability hate crimes were recorded by the police in England and Wales in 2011-12.
The report recommends that the police, the CPS and the probation service should jointly adopt and publish a “single, clear and uncomplicated” definition of a disability hate crime.
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