Tales of bullying and abuse ‘prove authorities have failed disabled’
By Nina Lakhani
The Independent, Monday, 12 September 2011
Public authorities are guilty of a “systemic failure” to protect the hundreds of thousands of disabled people who routinely endure harassment or abuse, according to an inquiry.
The most extreme cases of abuse, including torture and murder, represent only a small part of the problem, and a “cultural shift” is needed in how disabled people are viewed.
Verbal and physical abuse, theft, fraud and sexual bullying have become so widespread that disabled people seldom report even serious incidents because they accept the harassment as inevitable.
The inquiry was set up by the Equality and Human Rights Commission after the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter, Francecca Hardwick, in Leicestershire in 2007. The two were found dead in their burnt-out car not far from the home where they had suffered seven years of verbal and physical harassment by local youths who went unpunished.
The report, Hidden in Plain Sight, found that harassment is commonplace, largely ignored and rarely included in official statistics. MPs described the report last night as a devastating reflection of modern Britain which indicated the need for major attitude changes.
The inquiry examined 10 cases of severe abuse, nine of which resulted in the death of the victim. In many cases, police, health, housing and social services had done little to tackle harassment and petty crimes against the victims which then escalated into more serious assaults. Instead, the victims were often advised to stop going out or to avoid the perpetrators, and disability was rarely considered to be a motivating factor in the crime even when accompanied by hateful name calling. Serious case reviews were carried out in only half of the deaths.
Mike Smith, the lead commissioner and disability committee head from the EHRC, said: “What is most shocking about the 10 extreme cases is just how vile people can be to other people in modern society. But, when you take a step back, almost more shocking is just how much of this nasty stuff is happening to a lot of people a lot of the time, yet no one is taking notice. It’s like a collective denial.”
An estimated 10 million, or close to 20 per cent, of Britons are disabled. The British Crime Survey shows 1.9 million disabled people were the victims of crime in 2009-10 however this excludes disability-related harassment that is not considered to be criminal such as persistent name calling and kicking doors.
David Congdon, Mencap head of campaigns and policy, said: “Today’s EHRC report exposes systematic and institutional failings in the ability of public authorities to protect disabled people and their families from harassment.”
Many experts said last night that what was most needed was a fundamental shift in society’s attitudes towards disability and disabled people. “There needs to be a collective responsibility so everyone notices and no one turns a blind eye,” Mr Smith said.
The Government said it would respond to the recommendations made by the 18-month inquiry. A spokesman said: “Disability-related harassment is unacceptable and has no place in a civilised society … We know that hate crime often goes unreported and is not always centrally recorded and we are committed to changing this.”
Ann McGuire, chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group, called the report a “devastating” indictment of 21st-century Britain.
Eight stories that shame Britain
David Askew ,who had a mental age of 10, was subjected to harassment that included verbal abuse and having his windows smashed, for 12 years. He died of a heart attack in March 2010 after an incident involving local youths.
Keith Philpott, 36, who had learning difficulties, was beaten and stabbed to death. Two men, Sean Swindon and Michael Peart, were convicted of his murder, which was thought to have been motivated by disapproval of Philpott’s relationship with Swindon’s sister.
Shaowei, 25, was subjected to treatment described by police as “torture” by her husband Lun Xi Tan and was found murdered in 2006. Her husband pleaded guilty to allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.
Christopher Foulkes, above left, who had mental health issues, was tormented by a 15-year-old boy. He was found dead in 2007 and the teenager was charged with wounding with intent.
Colin Greenwood, a partially-sighted man from Sheffield, was frequently taunted by youths. In 2007 he was assaulted by two teenagers and died in hospital from a head wound.
Steven Hoskin was murdered in 2006 after sufferings years of abuse. Mr Hoskin, who had a reading age of six, had been imprisoned and abused in his home by a several perpetrators.
Laura Milne, who had learning disabilities, was beaten and tortured before being murdered in 2007 by three men, one of whom had bullied her at school. All three were convicted and imprisoned.
Michael Gilbert, above right, who had an undiagnosed mental health issue, was kept as a domestic slave by the family of James Watt. He was repeatedly beaten and stabbed and his dismembered body was found in 2009. Watt had been in care with Gilbert. Six convictions followed.