Letters: Persecution of the disabled

Persecution of the disabled is not taken seriously
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The Independent Online

The deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca have led to various parties struggling to understand how this tragedy could have happened. Your article "They were so evil towards Francecca" (29 September) quoted Alex Simmons' mother, Suzanne, arguing: "How can a few kids spirit knocking and throwing snowballs cause this? It is nothing to kill yourself over." It is perhaps this sentiment that gives us the clearest clue as to why nobody listened.

Research published recently by the Office for Public Management on behalf of the Equality and Human Rights Commission documented the widespread tendency to trivialise the experiences of disabled people. Disabled people are four times more likely to be victims of crime compared to non-disabled people. Incidents are often persistent so that they become part of the disabled victim's everyday life. While some incidents are severe, most are "low-level" and ongoing.

While commentators since pointed out that Leicestershire Police should have recognised the reported incidents as hate crimes, none of the disabled interviewees in the OPM research used the language of hate crime to describe their experiences. There is also evidence that statutory agencies are not using Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for sentence uplift for aggravation related to disability, effectively and consistently.

"Low level" occurrences have become normalised and trivialised. Yet these incidents have a massive impact on disabled people. Disabled victims restructure their lives to avoid perpetrators or risky situations. Their mental and physical health suffers; such withdrawal compromises their life chances and social inclusion.

The normalisation of such incidents leads to disabled people themselves accepting that such experiences are part of the everyday and that they cannot expect anything better. Disabled victims are also commonly advised to ignore perpetrators. This can sometimes be well-intentioned. However, what disabled victims require is not paternalistic attitudes of protection and welfare. What they deserve is the right to access justice and to seek redress. Cumulatively, acceptance and avoidance have the pernicious impact of sending out the message that disabled people cannot expect to lead fulfilling lives.

While statutory agencies share culpability in the tragic deaths of Fiona Pilkington and Francecca Hardwick, wider society needs to do some soul-searching.

Dr Chih Hoong Sin

Principal, Office for Public Management

London WC1

Brown cannot face the facts

Poor Gordon Brown, he just doesn't get it. He can't accept that the electorate are never going to vote for a party that has him as it head. So he will hang on to power for another six or eight months, and condemn Labour to the wilderness for five or ten years.

If he would face facts, accept the reality of the situation and let someone younger and with a bit of charisma take over, Labour might just scrape in again. Isn't there anyone there who can make him see sense? Perhaps Sarah could have a go.

Tony Cheney

Ipswich, Suffolk

Gordon Brown is like a man going to the supermarket with a long shopping list, no money in the bank and a maxed-out credit card.

When governments reach a certain age and come up with new policies we have a right to ask a couple questions. Why didn't you come up with this before? And how many of your current policies are there to sort out the mess you made in the last three administrations? That would be things like HIPs, GPs on £250K, ID cards, a couple of none too successful wars, schools testing and a truly spectacular fiscal deficit.

Still the alternative doesn't seem much better. The Lib Dems only seemed to come up with one new (and silly) idea and the Tories don't seem to have any ideas at all.

Pete Barrett

Colchester, Essex

Alan Johnson says that it is electors not newspapers that win elections. If this is the case one wonders why New Labour has allowed media influence to shape so much of its illiberal and opportunistic legislation in recent years.

David Maughan Brown


John Rentoul (30 September) is spot on. Promises will not do the trick. Gordon Brown is trusted neither by party nor by nation, as unloved as Harold Wilson. But, there you are: the chickens in Brighton voted for Colonel Sanders.

Dr Yen Chung Chong


Gordon Brown's pledges on democratic reform on Tuesday should have been welcomed, but were not. As an exercise in putting pressure on the Opposition they made sense. But as a serious statement about the need to change the way we do politics in this country, they were at least two years too late.

Sadly, Brown's chance to be the great reforming Prime Minister has passed him by. By leaving it late and delaying any change until the next parliament, he is in effect acknowledging that this Labour government hasn't the courage to make change happen.

But change is needed. The next Prime Minister, whoever it is, almost paradoxically will gain in stature by giving power away. It is up to all of us to show that we cannot continue to have our politics done by the few for the few.

Pam Giddy

Director, POWER2010, London SE1

Israeli policy for Palestinian land

Joe Dushansky (letter, 29 September) asks when Israel has ever threatened the destruction of another nation. There are numerous recorded statements from Ben Gurion to Ariel Sharon and beyond which document Zionist policy towards Palestine.

Perhaps the best known of them is the reply given by Sharon in 1973 to a question about Israeli policy towards Palestinian territory in the West Bank. "We'll make a pastrami sandwich of them," he boasted. "Yes, we'll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank so that, in 25 years' time neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody will be able to tear it apart."

In 1998 he said to some militant extremists: "Everyone has to grab as many hilltops as they can."

Not only has Israel threatened the destruction of another nation in Palestine, It has produced "facts on the ground" which render the two-state solution virtually a lost cause.

Frank Campbell


Mr Dushansky states as "documented fact" that "Iran's leader has on numerous occasions threatened the total destruction of Israel". The only documentary evidence is the circulation by a pro-Israel propaganda outfit in the US of a distorted translation of Farsi words that mean something like "vanishing from the pages of time". There was no threat, documented or otherwise.

Israel's leaders however have made no secret of the fact that they are itching to attack Iran, to prevent it from developing any sort of nuclear capability.

Diana Neslen

Ilford, Essex

The correspondence following Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's piece on Monday illustrates the uncanny ability so many share of being able to close their minds to the unpalatable reality of a problem.

The prime cause of the ferment in the Middle East is Israel's aggressive attitude to the Palestinians. You cannot throw people out of their land and expect them to go quietly, and Israel clearly has no intention of ceasing its encroachment upon Palestinian land.

We went to war to stop this sort of thing happening in Bosnia and yet we continue to do nothing whatever that is effective to stop the Israelis. Until Israel is brought to the negotiating table with the honest intent of working out an acceptable settlement we are continuing to provide all the excuse that militants in the area need, and we shall almost certainly live to regret it.

Dudley Dean

Maresfield, Leicestershire

Parent power at the ballot box

Throughout his article "Giving parents power is the way to better education" (25 September), Michael Gove derides the role local authorities play in the education system, denouncing it as "bureaucratic interference" and "imposing counterproductive regulations".

Local authorities do not dream up the regulations. That is done by the House of Commons, of which Mr Gove is a member. The local authorities merely have the job of implementing them as agents. And there lies a major part of the problem.

Local authorities' members are elected by all the adults of the area, including those who pay for the education service and those who are past, present and future parents of those who use it. If the authorities were given the power and the responsibility to fund, organise and regulate the educational establishments in their areas in accordance with their electorate's wishes, we could make sure-footed progress towards the goal of all parents having a first class school near where they live.

That would really be a worthwhile service, in contrast to the chaotic free-for-all Mr Gove is so keen on.

Geoff S Harris


The Tebbit 'U-turn' that never was

Pandora (30 September) reports on the rebuttal by Lord Tebbit's staff of a claim that he performed a so-called U-turn on a possible visit to a dinner at Jeremy's Restaurant to sign copies of his recent book The Game Cook.

I am horrified to think that Lord Tebbit would imagine that I could endorse such low behaviour, after his generosity in inviting me to provide a recipe for the book. I apologise unreservedly for tactics of the well-intentioned PR person who I had previously criticised for failing to get any mention of our connection with this story in print.

She had informed me that she had spoken to Lord Tebbit's office to try to arrange an event at the restaurant, and that Lord Tebbit might attend. I knew that it was unlikely, given that he had moved to Norfolk, but I saw no harm in her trying - there was talk of a car being arranged etc, but it soon became clear that it was a non-starter.

Should I ever find myself in this position again, I shall certainly handle all PR matters myself.

Jeremy Ashpool

Chef-Proprietor Jeremy's Restaurant

Haywards Heath, West Sussex


Dangerous gas

Your article on a chemical alert at Manchester airport (29 September) quotes an airport spokesman as saying that the chemical concerned, ethylamine, was not prohibited. This is not correct. Ethylamine is a flammable gas and falls under the heading of "dangerous goods". It is forbidden for carriage by passengers in either carry-on or checked (hold) baggage.

Geoff Leach

Head of Dangerous Goods, Civil Aviation Authority, London WC2

Never too old

I was horrified by the caption accompanying your feature on Michael Bolton (28 September). It states that he is "still fighting fit at 56". Please refer to your sister paper's feature on Sunday, which reported that "seventysomething rockers are still going out on the road". That someone is still rocking at 70 is mildly interesting. That being deemed able to stand on a stage and belt out a tune at the age of 56 is worthy of any comment whatsoever is depressing.

Jane Crossen

Knutsford, Cheshire

Divine interventions

Lewis Hamilton ascribed his recent victory to the Almighty (letter, 30 September). Can anyone point to an occasion of any sporting competitor openly blaming God when they lost? Similarly, visitors to the bones of St Thérèse, reported in the same issue, are quick to cry "miracle" when a tumour shrinks, but you never hear of any cries of blame should the person die. All we hear then is that it was "His will". These religions certainly have all ends covered.

Stan Broadwell


Uncommon speech

Do national literacy teaching and testing allow for regional variations? I ask after trying to help my nine-year-old with her homework on homophones. For "our" I suggested "hour", and the best I could come up with for "were" was "whirr". The answers expected by the setter were "are" (as in "Where's are Dave?") and "where" (as in "Where where ya, Dave?"). I wouldn't want my south-eastern middle-class-ish accent to be imposed in Liverpool's schools, or anywhere else, but the reverse seems to have happened here. Is the Queen's English now the Royle family's English?

Charles Hinkley

London SE3

Pig of a vehicle

The last thing we should do is to give the name "Warthog" to an armoured vehicle to fight against the Taliban. It will give their fanatic attitude an extra boost to be fighting against a "pig". I can imagine their brainwashers telling them they are fighting "Crusaders with warthogs".

W Hassan

Loughborough, Leicestershire