Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Police 'too timid' over disability

Tragic cases such as the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter could be repeated, it has been warned

Tragic cases such as the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter could be repeated because police officers are too embarrassed to ask victims of crime if they are disabled, inspectors have warned.

Disabled people told a joint review of disability hate crime that the police service had become "too sensitive about causing offence".

Officers and control-room staff as a result are reluctant to ask victims if they are disabled, the inspection of police, probation and Crown Prosecution Service found. In addition, confusion over how to define disability hate crime means it is not as easily identified as racist or religiously-motivated attacks.

The joint inspection was prompted by the case of Ms Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick in 2007 following 10 years of sustained abuse.

Asked if such a case could be repeated in light of its findings, Steve Ashley, programme director to HM Inspectorate Constabulary (HMIC), said: "Yes, it could."

He 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 forces had to "get police officers over this embarrassment factor about asking questions".

The HMIC, HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) review found victims of disability hate crime are being let down by the criminal justice system.

The immediate priority should be to encourage more people to come forward to report disability hate crime as under-reporting remains a significant concern, the report said.

Emma Harrison, assistant director at learning disability charity Mencap, said: "While we have seen real progress from police forces in some areas, Mencap still hears from too many disabled victims who feel that their reports are not taken seriously or acted upon, and who do not feel supported when giving evidence."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "All forms of hate crime are despicable. This behaviour can have devastating consequences for victims and communities and it is vital we work together to confront it."

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