The circumstances surrounding the case of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick are sadly not unique. There can be no doubt that disability hate crime exists.
There may be many easy targets in a community, but disabled people in particular are often defined by their apparent difference. Left to simmer, perceptions of difference can escalate into fear, and fear can turn into hatred. As we have seen in this case, this can end with tragic results. Our research shows that hate incidents and anti-social behaviour against disabled people, if left unchecked, may escalate into more serious crimes, including kidnap and murder.
That disabled people find it difficult to access services, including those provided by the police and local authorities, remains a huge barrier to addressing hate crime. Those that do report these crimes often find they are not taken seriously.
Many people, including those employed by public services, do not accept that a disabled person can be targeted simply because they are disabled. The Government considered extending hate crime legislation to cover incitement to disability hatred – something we are clear is a real issue - but to date have not done so.
Although the concept of ‘hate crime’ is still relatively new in our judicial system, the police have made significant progress in recognising hate crimes against other minority groups. Attacks against gay people or people from minority ethnic or religious backgrounds are investigated and prosecuted accordingly. The same progress must be made on disability hate crime.
So what can be done to combat disability hate crime? From the evidence seen in Fiona Pilkington’s case, it’s clear that the police and local authorities should have considered viewing the incidents against her family as disability hate crimes at a much earlier stage.
In addition to better training of front line staff across public services to ensure they recognise the signs of disability hate crime, significantly greater collaborative working between police forces and local authorities is needed. Social services, health services, local housing providers and the police all collect information about individuals. This information needs to be shared securely, so patterns can be detected and a holistic view of someone’s circumstances can be taken, rather than viewing each incident independently.
But it would make a considerable difference if we recognise that we all - not only those in positions of responsibility - have both an opportunity and a duty to challenge negative attitudes within our communities whether at work, at school, in our homes or on our streets. Only this way can we ensure that anyone ‘different’ is not isolated or persecuted within their own community.
Alice Maynard is chair of disability charity Scope