By Darren Devine, Wales Online, 17th June 2012
Spat on, punched, taunted in person and bullied online – the reality of life in a wheelchair in Wales has been revealed in shocking new statistics.
Police are recording rising numbers of reports of disability hate crimes, figures obtained by Wales on Sunday have shown.
Shockingly, disabled people’s rights campaigners say the statistics massively understate the scale of the problem as most victims are too embarrassed or upset to report the crime.
Many victims also fear they won’t be taken seriously by police.
Last year, Welsh police forces recorded 126 disability hate crimes, more than double the 52 in 2009.
But in the last three years 313 crimes have produced just 70 detections across Wales, which means in about 78% of cases sick thugs targeting some of the most vulnerable people in the country have gone unpunished.
South Wales Police has recorded 205 offences in the last three years but caught just 29 of those responsible.
Campaigner Simon Green, who uses a wheelchair and has endured a catalogue of abuse, called the detection rate ‘pitiful’.
He said: “That means to me that most people who have reported those crimes haven’t had the action taken they need.
“Unfortunately that might stop them from reporting something else.”
Last year in Leicestershire four officers faced misconduct action after missing opportunities to stop youths terrorising Fiona Pilkington, 38, and her 18-year-old disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick.
The pair died in October 2007 when Ms Pilkington set fire to their car after complaining 33 times to Leicestershire Police about harassment.
Mr Green, 36, from Bridgend, who has the degenerative brain disorder neurofibromatosis, acknowledged Welsh cops are “getting better” at dealing with disabled people who find themselves targeted.
He said five years ago disability hate crime was treated as poorly as domestic violence was 20 years ago, but things have been improving.
South Wales Police’s detection rate for disability hate crime in 2011 is 18%, which is 4% higher than the three-year rate between 2009 and 2011.
But this is still 15 per centage points below the 33% detection rate the force achieves for overall crime.
By contrast in North Wales the force caught half of all those responsible for the 56 crimes on its patch between 2009 and 2011.
In Dyfed Powys the force has caught seven people responsible for 23 offences in the last three years (30%), while in Gwent eight of the 28 offences were detected – a rate of about 29%.
Details released to WoS reveal how in Gwent in 2009 over several weeks “youths persistently intimidated a blind victim” by banging on a door and windows and being abusive.
Also in Gwent in 2011 a deaf victim had faeces smeared on their front door, while an eight-year-old autistic boy was spat on by youngsters in a park.
In Dyfed Powys one victim was taunted through published video clips and another saw comments about their disabled mother on a social networking site.
And among the worst cases in North Wales some reported falling victim to sex assaults, continuous harassment and seeing hurtful video clips published.
In South Wales one victim had a firework posted through their letterbox, a woman was stamped on and a victim with autism was punched and knocked to the floor.
Assistant chief constable of South Wales Police Julian Kirby said the force is committed to tackling all crime, but particularly those where ‘hate is part of the motivation’.
He claimed the force’s detection rate for all crime is one of the best in England and Wales, but stressed comparisons with particular types of crime are difficult.
He said: “Overall detection rates are a measure which attracts considerable attention and the South Wales Police detection rate is one of best in Wales and England.
“The profile of different crime types however makes comparison difficult.”
External affairs manager with Mencap Cymru Rhodri Davies said sometimes victims will not bother to report ‘low-level’ crime, but over time it can have tragic consequences as in the Pilkington case.
Last year officers from Greater Manchester Police were criticised for advising disabled David Askew to change his behaviour rather confronting those responsible for mounting a decade-long campaign of harassment that ended with his collapse outside his home.
Mr Davies said: “A lot of hate crime is not one massive incident, but systematic continual low-level abuse, which is quite hard to measure and report.”
Simon Green has been punched in the face, spat at and deliberately tipped out of his wheelchair in a catalogue of horrific incidents.
Mr Green, 36, has been in a wheelchair for nine years as a result of his degenerative brain illness neurofibromatosis
The keen sports fan from Bryntirion, Bridgend, who has completed the Cardiff Half Marathon in his wheelchair, was targeted in Cardiff nightspot Walkabout.
He said: “I’d not long got to this place and it was only about 8.30pm or 8.45pm and I was waiting for some friends.
“A guy walked over to me and said, ‘People like you shouldn’t be allowed out. You’re a f****** nuisance’.
“He spat on me and admittedly I swore back at him, as anyone would, and told him to go away.
“About five minutes later he came over with two pints in his hand and threw one in my lap and one over my head.”
The man was thrown out of the venue for assaulting Mr Green, who campaigns for disabled people’s rights.
Damian Chick, 30, from Barry, who is wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy, says his parents have been targeted because of his disability.
Mr Chick, who has 24 hour live-in carers, said: “I have experienced it indirectly by names my parents have been called and also my parents have had their cars damaged.
“I can’t really prove it’s because of my disability, but my carers have been asked why I’ve got the level of support I’ve got.”
*Victims of disability hate crime can report it to Mencap Cymru on 0808 808