Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People



Scapegoat has received reviews in the Evening Standard and Metro (click here for .pdf) and the Daily Mail. A .pdf containing a Q&A with the Big Issue can be downloaded here.

John Pring (Disability News Service)

“This is an astonishing book, and one which should be at the top of reading lists for students, academics, professionals and disabled activists for years to come. It is a definitive account, a clearly-argued analysis of disability hate crime and its root causes. It is also beautifully written. Every page demonstrates the care Quarmby has taken in her research, her determination to seek the truth behind the headlines, and her empathy for the many victims and survivors.”

Glasgow Herald

“To call this a sobering read would be an understatement. It is an excoriating indictment of society. Katharine Quarmby has studied the plight of disabled people in this country over the past century and gathered her findings into a fireball of a book. Excised from the heart of society and forced to live in the margins, with their only able-bodied contacts generally paid care-workers, the disabled are also statistically far more likely to be the victims of violent crime. Quarmby traces how ancient superstitions about the disabled were not dispelled by science but propped up by eugenicists, and how compulsory euthanasia was a suggestion earnestly put to Home Secretary Winston Churchill when he was drafting the Mental Deficiency bill of 1912. A shocking, challenging call to action.”

Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times

“This is a stomach churning book – but it must be read” (read .pdf of review)

Dr Tom Shakespeare, a leading disabled academic and now working with the World Health Organisation (WHO), said he could not imagine a more important book would be published this year.

He said Scapegoat provided the evidence of disability hate crime that could persuade policymakers to “do something about it”. more…

The Scotsman

Quarmby is herself recognised as the first British journalist to write about disability hate crime, back in 2007. Having also compiled the first significant report into the subject, commissioned by the charity Scope, she brings to this book a detailed knowledge of numerous horrifying cases of neglect and brutality towards disabled people, based both on her own research and face-to-face interviews with relatives, officials, academics and campaigners. Although her personal visits to the murder locations might seem somewhat frivolous, her book remains genuinely authoritative. more…


Every few months there’s a shocking news story about the sustained, and often fatal, abuse of a disabled person. It’s easy to write off such cases as bullying that got out of hand, terrible criminal anomalies or regrettable failures of the care system, but in fact they point to a more uncomfortable and fundamental truth about how our society treats its most unequal citizens. In Scapegoat, Katharine Quarmby looks behind the headlines to trace the history of disability and our discomfort with disabled people, from Greek and Roman culture through the Industrial Revolution and the origins of Britain’s asylum system to the eugenics movement and the Holocaust, right through to the modern day. Quarmby also charts the modern disability rights movement to those still fighting for independent living, the end of segregation, and equal rights. Combining fascinating examples from history with tenacious investigation and powerful first person interviews, Scapegoat will change the way we think about disability – and how we treat disabled people. Published by Portobello Books

What was the inspiration for the book?

In June 2007, on a press day at Disability Now magazine news came through that sentence was to be handed down on three people responsible for holding captive, and torturing a young man with epilepsy, Kevin Davies.

After filing a terse story to meet our deadline, the next day I sat down to investigate disability hate crime – to prove that what had happened to Kevin Davies in no way was covered by “wrongful imprisonment” and assault. Over the next few months, as I uncovered similar cases involving torture, rape and murder, crimes that sickened me to the core, I became convinced that there existed in society a depth of hatred towards disabled people that had gone unmarked by the criminal justice system. I spent over two years assembling evidence to prove what had been an “invisible crime” before writing the report, Getting Away with Murder, published by Scope, Disability Now and the UK’s Disabled People’s Council, which argued that Britain had a serious, pernicious problem with disability hate crime – and its attitude towards it. This book is the story of how I investigated disability hate crime, why it exists and what its roots are. The story is not only an emotional journey, for all of those families and friends of disabled people who have experienced such terrible crimes. It is also a physical journey around England, to the places where disabled people have been targeted, attacked and murdered.

My task, this time around, has been to bear witness to the pain of this crime. But it doesn’t end there. I have also looked for motivating factors, geographical clues, to search for commonalities in both victims and perpetrators so that we can assess risk and start to develop prevention strategies. I end, however, with a challenge to us as a society. Our own prejudices about disability can be seen, mirrored and distorted, in the actions of those responsible for disability hate crime. So when we ask who is responsible, the answer is all of us.


“An important book which examines the roots of our uncomfortable and often hostile attitudes to disabled people. Quarmby, a high profile campaigning journalist and associate editor at Prospect, argues eloquently for greater recognition of disability hate crimes too.”


5 thoughts on “Scapegoat

  1. andria

    As a disabled lone Mum, this was not an easy book to read but I ploughed on and now I am writing a kind of blog about it on a Facebook page. It does appear that hurting disabled people emotionally and/or physically is something which thousands of people appear to think is OK including our authorities/public services, who are supposed to be trying to protect us. It made me think of the endless times I myself, had been abused over the years, especially as a kid , struggling to breathe, when I was beaten up or emotionally abused. But most of all it has made me think that unless a crime is legislated against, it will never get the attention it deserves, which is a crying shame. It does seem that – certainly in the UK – we do not take bad behaviour seriously UNLESS we know there is a deterrent, a reason not to do it
    That said I am well aware of Public Sector cuts, or inadequate responses as I have worked in those services as a counsellor over the years. Human beings are fallible and screw up a lot…
    Perhaps in memory of all those disabled people who have either lost their lives OR their minds, we can now do something concrete in this country which will stop people thinking it is acceptable to harm vulnerable adults
    I know interventions are being set up, but it would seem that the wheels of change are slow, and certainly too slow for being living with life-threatening conditions today..
    Katherine, thank U so much for writing this book.

  2. Pingback: Police force criticised after refusing to treat ‘lynch mob’ murder as hate crime – Black Triangle Campaign

  3. Pingback: Black Triangle Campaign

  4. Pingback: Murdered disabled refugee ‘was repeatedly failed by council and police’ – Black Triangle Campaign

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