Tag Archives: Disability Hate Crime Network

Disability hate crime motivation survey – results

About a month ago, I designed and sent out a short survey about disability hate crime, concentrating on motivation, but also covering a few other questions such as location of incidents, gender and race of attackers and nature of the incident or attack. This was done under the auspices of the Disability Hate Crime Network, for which I work as one of the pro bono co-ordinators. Grateful thanks to all the co-ordinators, for all their input – it was so valuable – particularly Simon Green’s thoughts in the very early stages, when we came up with the idea, and later Anne Novis, Stephen Brookes, Mark Cutter, Mel Close, Rosemary Irwin, Sarah Hewitt and Beverley Smith.

We are all very grateful to everyone who has done the survey – it is only a small survey, but we believe it does shed some light on the motivation for some attacks, and hopefully it will lead to more detailed research in the future.

Thanks also to the Guardian newspaper, which has commissioned me to write a short comment piece on the research in Guardian Society. Thanks to Survey Monkey for the survey template. It’s appreciated. It allows not-for-profit organisations like ourselves, with no funding, to carry out small bits of research for free (except for our time). We hope it contributes to the wider debate on what fuels disability hate crime.

Below is a longer summary of the results. Please feel free to share widely and discuss. But bear in mind it is a self-reporting survey, of just 100 disabled people, who we found through personal contacts, the Disability Hate Crime Network, and social media. It’s a start to further research – not an end.

Summary of key findings from disability hate crime motivation survey

Question 1: do you define yourself to be a disabled person?

89% of those completing the survey defined themselves as disabled people.

Some of those who didn’t self-define were completing the survey because other family members had experienced hate crimes.

65 shared their conditions, with some explaining they had done because they felt it had triggered an attack.

One person, who had a number of conditions including anxiety and depression came home after suffering a horrific sexual assault and murderous attack. They wrote: “My neighbours had seen my facial injuries and saw I had lost my front teeth and had put two and two together after watching the local news on TV. They could see how vulnerable I was, and this was when everything escalated so badly that I sold my house to a landlord, moved out and had to rent for a while…I did this as I was desperate to escape the bullying for my daughter and myself.”

Another, with rheumatoid arthritis, causing impaired mobility, was targeted because of their blue badge, as was an amputee, who was shouted at for using a disabled parking bay and called a ‘scrounger’. Another wheelchair user felt they were targeted for having a visible disability.

Question 2: have you experienced a hate crime or hate incident?

87.2% of those responding had experienced a hate crime or incident.

11% had not.

61 explained more about their experiences, which were wide-ranging. Some flashpoints, however, were familiar – public transport, disabled parking bays, jealousy about perceived ‘perks’ and ‘not looking disabled’:

One person said: “I have had cars parked close to the rear of my car to make it difficult for me to load my wheelchair…I’ve experienced a number of incidents. I’ve been chastised

for managing to walk to my front gate without my walking stick, (it’s only a couple of steps). I’ve been insulted for using a disabled toilet and slapped on a bus for using a designated seat. I’ve twice been reported to the DWP for being a ‘bogus’ claimant…had my car repeatedly scratched (16 reports to police), had my car spat on and an egg thrown on it.

Another said: “I was having much needed repairs to our conservatory when a neighbour shouted over the hedge ‘if I was living on benefits I’d have a conservatory too!’ The conservatory came with the house and was over twenty years old.

Another reported: “I’ve had a man trying to take away my walking stick saying I was “too young and beautiful” to use it. I’ve had two men try to shove me out of the way on a pavement because I was walking too slowly and they were trying to get to a pub,

On occasion, children were involved: “I was deliberately barged into by more than one of a group of 8 year French old children who were on the same site as a convention I attended. The children from this language school were harassing disabled attenders of our convention, kicking sticks/crutches out from under people and barging into them “accidentally”. Their supervising adults weren’t supervising properly. My friend who was with me didn’t see the first child bash into me, but she heard them making remarks about my arms and saw the second child bash into me. I was furious as I had noticed the children barging adults off the paths around the site. I complained to the university venue who were useless and my convention organisers who were superb and reported it to the police alongside a number of other disablist, LGB and T phobic hatecrimes our bi convention got on that site. The police took a statement and went around pestering the university venue management till the children’s supervisors were found and doing their supervising which reduced the harassment a bit. The police then didn’t follow up as promised which I found frustrating and I knew no charges could be pressed as identifying the specific children would be hard.”

Another talked about public transport: “I was travelling on a bus to shopping one day and the bus was quite full but a guy who had a pram wanted to sit with his partner and wanted to sit at the front where I was sitting and demanded I move. I said no, and tried to explain about my disability. He called me a ‘spas’ and a ‘mong’ and said I should not be left out.

A lack of understanding of disability is evident:

“I was asked why I use a wheelchair some times but had been seen using sticks on others days, I tried to explain that my condition varies from day to day and on days when I can walk I try to do so. I was then told I was just fat and lazy and was doing it to get benefits. I have been abused for using a blue badge. Been called a spastic, and to go to bloody work…I have been spat at.”

Of the 61 who gave further details about their experience, 11 mentioned being called ‘scroungers’ or being told to get off benefits, or that they were too lazy to work.

Question 3 – What was the location of the hate crime or incident?

The locations chimed with places that both the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and I, in both Getting Away with Murder and in my book, Scapegoat, have identified as flashpoints for disabled people in previous research.

24% of attacks happened at home; 57% on the street, 4% in care environments, 20% on public transport, 12.8% in schools or educational establishments, 3% in hospitals and more than one place – 28.5%. This last category allowed people to name other places where attacks took place as well. 26 people added extra comments. A small number reported being attacked or harassed on social media or at work.

Other attacks happened in pubs, supermarkets and in the car. One person said: “This is not a single incident, rather an accumulation of incidents that are very similar. It makes you dread using public transport at times.” 6 out of 26 said that attacks happened in supermarkets and shops.

Question 4: What do you think the motivation for the attack was?

67 answered, and 33 skipped this question.

Interestingly, few people – two – pin-pointed ‘scrounger rhetoric’ as behind disability hate crime although it is important to stress that a larger number had mentioned it in previous answers. 34 said ‘disability hate’ or ‘disability’ without going further. A number – 7- felt that ‘vulnerability’ – a feeling that the attacker could ‘get away with attacking them without any come-back had increased the hatred towards them. There was also a clear theme of jealousy toward perceived ‘perks’ of disability – which some non-disabled people had tried to either exploit or had attacked the disabled person for, out of hostility. One person felt they had been targeted because of their ethnicity and disability.

One person said: “I think the main motivation is “because they can” .. I am in no position to defend myself.. Although the harassment escalated when I took over the tenancy of a local authority garage located on an access road these people believe to be “theirs” (it isn’t)….After taking on the tenancy I started to experience an increase in frequency of incidents of abuse, threats and harrassment culminating in me no longer using the garage, hardly ever leaving the flat and if I do getting in the car and going away from here, no longer sitting in the garden with a book/the radio, constantly being jumpy and nervous, etc..”

The person who experienced the sexual assault wrote: “They saw me ill following the serious assault and I believe the motive was my vulnerability (I had had no problems with these particular neighbours when my health had been normal).”

Another felt that they had been exploited and targeted:

“They saw my disability and were aware of benefits I received. One person became my boyfriend and would threaten to finish with me or harm himself if I didn’t give him money, or buy him mobile phone s. I ended up with eight mobile phone contracts, which I later found out he was selling and using the money for drugs.”

Another wrote:”I wish I knew. People are just plain spiteful. I was an easy target who could never fight back physically, so, I was a punchbag, both physically and mentally.”

One person felt it was a mixture of motives: “exploitation of vulnerable people, attacking someone who can’t fight back, your word against theirs, sadism”.

Another felt it was partly due to the benefits crackdown: “Bigotry, fuelled by propaganda against people on benefits”.

Another person saw it as mixed too: “Venting a prejudice is I think the main motivation. There’s usually some kind of ‘useless’ part of the labelling, a bit of ageism, a bit of disablism, and a very unpleasant bit of invective. Plus a ‘get out of my way, or why are you blocking everything up’, or some such. A typical one, ‘get out of my fucking way you old hag’, or ‘bitch or get back to your shithole you geriatric cow’.”

There was a sense of the perceived uselessness and invisibility of disability. One person wrote: “On one occasion when I fell a man just stepped over me like I was vermin… I have been shoved backwards into the lift as I attempted to leave. Two women walked past me – instead of allowing me to move forward they just carried on walking, pushing me backwards back into the lift door. I felt ignored and overall humiliated.”

Another wrote: “Most of the abuse is from strangers , who now think that every one who is disabled is lying about being ill. Because this government are spreading so many lies, regarding us. Also relations who think you can be better and go to work as you are not ill every day. Also I am sorry to say at church through ignorance. Also benefit assessments. I have also been pushed off of sticks by a stranger who was very abusive.”

This was echoed by others, along with a strong sense of jealousy:

“Disability hostility, resentment as think I get money, that I don’t work or worth helping. Jealousy of adapted car, irritation as may be in their way on street, young people think its funny, therefore worth ridiculing me, some truly believe we are drain on society, should never be allowed to be born or live, others think easy target.”

Another identified a freak-show element: “Mockery of disability. The teenagers concerned were known to the police and to local school teachers as perennial troublemakers.”

These came up again: The perpetrators were three young women who were shouting at a middle-aged man with Down’s Syndrome and calling him brain dead….Their motivation appears to be ignorance and/or perceived comedy value.”

Question 5: What gender was your attacker?

69 respondents answered this question and 31 skipped it.

30% of sole attackers were male, and 17% female. Interestingly, there was more than one attacker in 49% of cases and in most of those women were involved (accounting for the rest of the attackers). It’s worth mentioning that in the latest Crown Prosecution Service Hate Crime Report, women are defendants in around 25% of disability hate crimes, but only around 13-15% of other forms of hate crimes, except crimes against older people, where they are also defendants in around 22% of the cases. Clearly, as I have written before, there needs to be far more research on the role of women in disability hate crime (and older people, a cross-cutting group).

One person recalled:

“Pushed from chair by women, verbally abused by both men and women. Usually older people.”

Another said: “Male in most incidents, some verbal incidents have included females in group (at least one group appeared to be a family with adult children), one verbal incident involved a female only.”

Another wrote: “Worst incident – an older white woman. Otherwise, mostly men.”

Another wrote: “Two separate incidents attacked by black male gang of young men, attack on street Young mother with child abused me in shop car park.

Question 6: What was the approximate age of your attacker?

Age of attackers: 61 answered this, and 39 skipped it. The percentages did not add up to 100%, because of group attacks.

Under 16: 19.67% (12)

16-20: 18.03% (11)

21-30: 32.79% (20)

31-40: 32.79% (20)

41-50: 29.51 (18)

51-60: 11.48% (7)

61 and over 11.48% (7)

Prefer not to say 3.28% (2)

Many pointed out they were attacked by more than one person, so more than one age group but perhaps there is a small chink of light that the percentages of attacks by younger people are slightly lower than people in the midrange for age.

Question 7: What do you think was the ethnic group of your attacker?

63 answered and 37 skipped

90% of attackers were white, 5% were mixed heritage, and other counted for 5%

White people are slightly over-represented as attackers in this survey – the last census found that 86% of the population identify as white.

 

Question 8: What is your gender?

71 answered and 29 skipped.

53% of respondents were female, and 45% male, with others preferring not to say.

Question 9: What is your ethnicity?

94% were white, 1% were mixed heritage, 1% was a highly identifiable racial group (so I am not including it here) and the remaining preferred not to say.

If you would like to join the Network and have an interest in disability hate crime, please go to:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/disabilityhatecrimenetwork/

If you would like to know more about disability hate crime, you can read the first report I wrote:

http://www.scope.org.uk/Scope/media/Images/Publication%20Directory/Getting-away-with-murder.pdf?ext=.pdf

If you would like to read my book, Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people (Portobello, 2011), an investigation into disability hate crime in the UK and further afield, you can buy it in good bookshops or online at:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Scapegoat-Why-Failing-Disabled-People/dp/1846273226/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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Disability hate crime motivation survey

Over the last few years many disability hate crime campaigners have called for perpetrator analysis. I am one of those: I have been advocating for it since 2008, when I wrote the disability hate crime report, Getting Away With Murder, (for the UK Disabled People’s Council, Disability Now magazine and Scope). At the (British) Disability Hate Crime Network, run on email and Facebook, of which I am one of the co-ordinators, we believe that perpetrator analysis is important because without knowing more about why people commit this crime, it is very difficult to design programmes that prevent it from happening or dissuade offenders from committing similar crimes again in the future.  (I recommended it again in my book, Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people, published by Portobello Books in 2011.)  The Equality and Human Rights Commission recommended it in its report, Hidden in Plain Sight, published in the same year. The government promised to carry it out – which we joint coordinators at the Disability Hate Crime Network welcomed.

But it hasn’t happened, much to the frustration of many working on disability hate crime. It has been promised, through the National Offender Management Service and the College of Policing, but as far as we have been told, has not yet been published, despite many requests to see the data.

Simon Green, a co-ordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and I were talking about motivation recently. He was talking about the crimes against him, and how it was clear what the motivation was. So we came up with the notion: if the analysis of offenders is not going to be published, why don’t we ask victims and survivors of disability hate crime whether they know why the crime against them was committed? Often people who have experienced this crime have very useful thoughts to feed into our knowledge of the crime – but at the moment, that knowledge is not being tapped.

We decided to do a short snapshot survey of people who have experienced disability hate crime to ask them this question and a few other questions that might throw light on the crime – such as location of the crime, gender, age of the attacker and so on. We hope the results may throw some light on disability hate crime and possibly lead to a longer and more detailed study, if there is funding available.

Please do complete the survey – but only if you are living in the UK and have experienced disability hate crime. We hope that the results will tell us more about motivation – the missing part of the jigsaw. In so doing, it may aid prevention of this crime in the future.

I would like to thank all the co-ordinators for helpful comments on the design of the short survey. All identifying details will of course remain anonymous; only non-identifying details will be shared and once analysed the data will be destroyed.

Please go to our Facebook page to do the survey:

Facebook.com/groups/disabilityhatecrimenetwork

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some thoughts on human rights reporting and its discontents

This is a longer version of the blog I wrote for the Oxford Human Rights Hub, which you can see here, on the hierarchy of human rights and human rights reporting: 

http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/?p=5002

This followed on from my talk for Wadham College, Oxford University, on human rights journalism generally, and how it is evolving in the age of the Internet. 

http://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk/news/2014/march/an-uncertain-future-for-human-rights-reporting

Whilst I applaud so much of the human rights reporting that takes place in the world, it paints on a large canvas. We think of it being about combating the death penalty, pointing out human rights violations in combat zones and protecting the rights of asylum seekers – all noble aims that I fully support. But when human rights journalism – and human rights – inconvenience us or affect our property rights, things become a little more uncomfortable. So here’s my thoughts on that – comments please. 

Is there a hierarchy of human rights and human rights reporting?

Looking back over my many years of writing and making films about human rights issues, I’m struck by which stories and groups get the most publicity and which stories are more difficult to fund, write and make. I believe that just as there is a hierarchy of rights, as discussed by human rights scholars for many decades, there is also a hierarchy of human rights reporting.

 

War reporting and the human rights violations that occur in conflict zones, are seen as what one might call ‘classic’ human rights journalism. It’s dangerous work. Last year, the International Federation of Journalists estimated that over 100 journalists and media workers were directly killed because of their work – and around half of that number were engaged in human rights reporting.

 

http://www.ifj.org/en/articles/108-journalists-killed-in-2013-to-test-un-day-to-end-impunity-francais-espanol

 

I was one of the many journalists who travelled to Rwanda after the genocide that killed at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994. (It’s noteworthy that the killing of the Pygmy people, the Twa, was far less covered.) I was there in 1997, to record the aftermath, with BBC Panorama and the film we made, Valentina’s Story, produced by Mike Robinson and reported by Fergal Keane, is a classic piece of human rights reporting. It drew attention to the genocide through the eyes of one child survivor. In 1999 I went back with Fergal, as a BBC Newsnight producer, to make two more classic human rights films, gathering evidence on rights violations during the genocide that could be forwarded to the Arusha War Crimes Tribunal. This kind of journalism is done today by dedicated correspondents throughout the world – from CNN to Al Jazeera, to the BBC and to PBS, in war and conflict zones as various as the Central Africa Republic, Syria and many areas of the Middle East. It’s crucial that such journalism continues.

 

I have moved on to smaller scale, intimate human rights journalism that I also consider important, but which is far less well funded and at times controversial. I think this is because the very rights of those under fire are seen as questionable and not mainstream – even by those inside the human rights field. This means that the funding for reporting on them, and the importance ascribed to them is far less – what one might call inconvenient and unpopular human rights journalism. I think this is a pity.

 

In 2012 I looked at how human rights organisations wrote and campaigned on disability rights for Amnesty International’s magazine. I found that few saw them as central to their work – in fact, in the drop-down menu of rights on the Amnesty International’s website, disability was not mentioned as a category – unlike childrens’ rights, gay and lesbian rights, women’s rights and refugee rights. Happily, at the annual general meeting last year, it was overwhelmingly decided to remedy this. Disabled peoples’ rights are still seen as segregated from other rights – as if human rights groups mirror some of the divisions between disabled people and non-disabled people in Britain today. During the Leveson Inquiry, similarly, despite a campaign by disabled people and their organisations, none were called to give oral evidence on how they were treated in the media, something I and many others wrote and campaigned about at the time.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/may/08/leveson-willful-blindness-disabled-people

 

 Leveson did, however, take oral evidence from women’s rights organizations, transgender organizations, and refugee organisations – something I completely agreed with – but I did not agree with the lack of oral evidence from disabled peoples’ organisations. Eventually, some campaigners (I was one of them) were invited to give written evidence, but it is disappointing that this division was so evident in such a key inquiry, when the stereotyping of disabled people by certain sections of the media, especially around benefit cuts, is clearly evidenced to have caused a worsening of public attitudes towards them.

 

http://www.inclusionlondon.co.uk/bad-news-for-disabled-people-report-reveals-extent-of-media-misrepresentation

 

This lack of understanding of the discrimination faced by disabled people meant that it took many years for me and others to get the real and pressing issue of disability hate crime recognized. The key intervention of Lord Ken Macdonald, then the Director of Public Prosecutions, who called disability hate crime a ‘scar on the conscience’ of the criminal justice system was one of the reasons why that change happened – but it was a long time coming, and human rights organisations are still playing catch-up when it comes to integrating disability rights into a wider rights agenda.

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7655244.stm

 

Disability rights can be seen as inconvenient to the general public (think of wheelchair spaces on buses, and how they become contested spaces with parents with pushchairs, for example) and this attitude is mirrored in journalism itself.

 

Lastly, we come on to unpopular human rights journalism – and this is where I would place the rights of Britain’s nomads, which come into conflict with another highly cherished set of British rights – property rights. Essentially the rights of Britain’s nomads to enjoy a life free from discrimination, to enjoy the right to family life, the right to education, the right to vote, the right to a decent standard of living and housing come into conflict with British planning law. This was played out in Court 76 of the High Court on October 12, 2011, as I reported for the Economist, when the Dale Farm Irish Traveller residents lost a crucial legal battle against their eviction.  I wrote at the time: “Dale Farm has become a symbol of an increasingly bitter dispute about the rights of Gypsies and Travellers, around a fifth of whom have nowhere legal to live. Basildon council argues that it is simply enforcing planning law, by which all citizens must abide. This was echoed by Mr Justice Ouseley. He said that there must be “public respect for and confidence in” planning law, and that although Basildon council had not identified alternative pitches where the travellers could live, those deemed homeless had been offered “bricks and mortar” accommodation. The decision by Dale Farm residents to decline such housing, due to their “cultural aversion” to it, he said, was their own responsibility. He pointed out that the Travellers were breaching the law by remaining on site.”

 

http://www.economist.com/blogs/blighty/2011/10/dale-farm

 

The eviction of Dale Farm left some 86 families without a secure home, and cost Basildon Council millions of pounds. Many of the families still live roadside, in poor conditions. Basildon was right in legal terms, but who has won? Children are no longer in school, mothers are on anti-depressants, families do not have running water and local tax-payers are footing an enormous bill. There has to be a better way of honouring property rights than creating a situation in which the human rights of these particular Traveller families are so completely ignored, three years on. But such views are unpopular, and the rights of Britain’s nomads are questioned, constantly. Those who seek to defend their rights find it hard to get commissions. This is unpopular human rights journalism – but it is important, all the same.

 

I am grateful for all the journalism I’ve been able to do, over so many years – from Rwanda to Dale Farm, to small-scale human rights stories for Private Eye. That’s our job and it’s worthwhile – at all its levels: popular, unpopular, inconvenient and small scale. But the hierarchy does make me uncomfortable.

 

 

 

 

 

Attorney General’s Letter to Disability Hate Crime Network re Bijan Ebrahimi case

This is the letter I received (on behalf of the Disability Hate Crime Network) from the Attorney General, in which he explains his reasons not to refer the sentences imposed on those involved with the case of Bijan Ebrahimi to the Court of Appeal.

I’m glad it’s a comprehensive reply, but I’m sorry the sentences were not referred. I’ve thought a lot about this case over the last few weeks, and have a few observations. One is, as I’ve said before, that we need good quality perpetrator analysis of disability hate crime offenders to understand motivation better. Secondly, I would advocate FBI style information on the crimes and offenders being more readily available – locations, ethnicities, etc etc. This would enable potential victims to conduct their own risk analysis of situations more readily. Perhaps it would even lead to better intelligence led policing.

Most importantly, however, I think that this case should lead to a major police reform whereby if a police force considers that it may have failed a murder victim and refers itself to the IPCC after death it should then have the murder investigation removed from it. This would mean that the investigation could be more wide-ranging. In the Avon and Somerset case the police force stated that it could find no evidence that the crime was motivated by disability hatred. If it had found such evidence, of course, that would have damned the force yet further. So it had a direct interest in not looking for such evidence – if it was there. That meant it did not ask for Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act to be applied either for race or disability hatred which would have led to longer sentences. So I think in future cases a neighbouring force should take over the ensuing investigation to look for all evidence that might show evidence of the police not doing their job properly before the murder and missing repeated harassment. One to ponder.

LETTER FROM THE ATTORNEY GENERAL – DATED 3 JANUARY 2014

Dear Ms Quarmby

Thank you for your email on behalf of the Disability Hate Crime Network asking the Attorney General to review the sentences imposed on Lee James and Stephen Norley. James pleaded guilty to the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 18 years. Norley pleaded guilty to assisting an offender and was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.

The Attorney General has carefully considered the sentences imposed and has decided not to refer either sentence to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient because he does not think the Court would increase the sentences.

As you may know, the Attorney General has the power to refer sentences imposed in the Crown Court for certain offences to the Court of Appeal if he considers they are unduly lenient. It is then for the Court of Appeal to determine whether the sentence is unduly lenient and, if so, whether to increase it. The Court of Appeal will not interfere with a sentence unless it is outside the range of sentences it was reasonable for the judge to have passed.

The Court of Appeal’s review of a sentence is based on the material which was before the sentencing judge and the Attorney General has to take that into account when he reviews a sentence. In other words he has to look at the basis on which the case was presented to the court below. In this case the prosecution made it clear that there was no evidence that the offenders were motivated by hostility towards Mr Ebrahimi’s race or disability when the offence was committed. The prosecution did not consider there was any evidence in this case that the false accusation against Mr Ebrahimi that he was a paedophile was related to his disability. There was therefore no basis on which to argue that the offences ought to have been treated as hate crime.

The sentencing judge did find that this was a vigilante crime characterised by bullying and victimisation and he increased the sentences to take account of that, and other aggravating factors. The Attorney General concluded that the judge approached the sentencing exercise properly and took all relevant factors into account.

I hope this helps to explain why the Attorney General decided that it would not be appropriate to refer these sentences to the Court of Appeal.

Yours sincerely

Correspondence Unit

Guest blog by Anne Novis about BIjan Ebrahimi’s murder

I’m delighted to be able to publish a blog here by my friend and indefatigable disability rights campaigner, Anne Novis. As I’ve said elsewhere, Anne’s work in so many areas, but particularly in raising the murder of Albert Adams, as long ago as 2005, is key in the campaign against disability hate crime. She has also been crucial, along with Stephen Brookes and other co-ordinators, in developing and maintaining the Disability Hate Crime Network.

Here’s Anne’s thoughts on this latest murder. 

A life less valid – When is a hate crime not a hate crime?

By Anne Novis MBE 

It seems that a hate crime is now not defined by the perception of the victim, his or her family or communities, as it should be in law. No matter how many times a victim has reported each and every time they are harassed, abused and attacked due to race and disability, or being perceived as ‘different’.

 

As has been highlighted by the case of Mr Bijan Ebrahimi, murdered by one man (assisted by one more), following years of abuse and hostility by many others who lived near him in various homes.

 

Let me list what we know happened to Bijan, a disabled Iranian man with mental health and physical impairments, bear in mind there is much we do not know yet;

 

Between 2008 and 2011 he reported harassment 14 times to police

Verbally racially abuse

Physically assaulted by people in a shared house

House broken into

Hot water thrown on his chest and feet

Threatened with hostility and death

Property and possessions vandalised

Driven out of his previous home by an arson attack

Mobbed by up to twenty people hurling abuse, threats and calling him names

Arrested when he called police for help

Falsely accused of being a paedophile

Beaten to death

His body doused with white spirit and set alight.

 

His family believe he was picked on as he lived alone, was disabled, vulnerable, and because “he was different”.

In a statement, the family said in one “callous act of unimaginable hatred” its entire world had been taken. …..we are gravely concerned that the actions of those men may have been made possible by the failures of the police and others to protect Bijan.

So as a disability campaigner and activist on disability hate crime for nearly two decades, knowing how hard myself and others have worked to raise awareness, improve reporting to police, changing the way police and legislation promotes justice for disabled people myself and others expected the Police, Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to recognise this case as hate crime from the outset.

 

Why? First because the police have already admitted they let this man down by their actions and poor responses to his experiences, the family had made it clear they saw this murder linked to all the other hate crime Bijan had experienced, and lastly because we have evidenced that many disabled men get falsely accused as being paedophiles as part of a campaign of hate and horror against their victims.

 

As Katharine Quarmby, a journalist, friend and coordinator of the Disability Hate crime Network stated in one of her blogs:

 

‘In just over one year, in fact, I found five such killings related to false sexual offence charges, including paedophilia. These included that of Sean Miles, who was stripped, stabbed and drowned after being accused of being a paedophile. Steven Hoskin was similarly accused, tortured, targeted and murdered by so-called friends, who dragged him around on a dog leash before pulling him to a railway viaduct and pushing him off. Now Bijan Ebrahimi takes his place on that sad list of murders – a grim pattern of disabled men falsely accused of sexual crimes they didn’t commit, and then killed with overwhelming cruelty by a lynch mob.’

 

Katherine and I had worked together on a groundbreaking report called ‘Getting away with Murder: disabled peoples’ experiences of hate crime’, we had also worked with others, advising the Equality and Human Rights Commission on its inquiry into disability related hostility.

 

Its report ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, published in 2011, had stated that the false allegation of pedophilia against disabled people was a clear and present danger to their lives.

 

I have also produced reports cataloging over 70 murders of disabled people and hundred of attacks as evidence for this inquiry.

 

Through my own experience, work with victims of disability hate crime, and disabled peoples organisations I know any excuse is used to validate abusing, attacking and murdering a disabled person just because they are perceived as different.

 

From before birth, the abortion of disabled a foetus up to 40 weeks of pregnancy, to segregated education, euthanasia, assisted suicide, so called ‘Mercy killings’, the killing and segregation of disabled people has been justified for centuries and contributes to the attitudes disabled people face these days in society.

 

Add to this the current political and media stances about disabled people being a burden on the state, unsustainable, fraudsters and non tax payers we are facing vitriol and scapegoating for all the problems at this time.

 

In the media and in interviews about the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi interviewers have asked ‘Is it reasonable to expect at this time of financial cuts to be able to support and protect disabled people?’

 

My answer is absolutely Yes! for if we cannot support those in society who need support and protection what does that say about us as individuals and as a nation?

 

How much money does it take to do your job properly as a police officer, housing officer, MP, or judge?

 

No extra money at all for in this case, as in many others, it’s the poor responses to reports of hostility by disabled people to these agencies that can lead to deaths and a life of fear and abuse.

 

So the term used by the Nazi’s about disabled people having ‘ a life less valid’ echoes down the years as we face yet again the lack of justice for a disabled person who faced years of harassment, abuse and hostility before he was brutally murdered.

 

As for hate crime, I ask as many must do at this time, if Bijan’s experiences and murder cannot be recognized as a result of hate crime by the CPS and court, what can?

 

How much more evidence does anyone need to understand the lived experience of victims of hate crimes?

 

Shame on all the people who let this man down, who abused, harassed and murdered him, shame on the UK justice system for allowing such an injustice to occur and shame on those who try to ‘excuse’ such crimes by stating he was partially at fault due to making so many complaints which is what the prosecution used as a defence and shame on those who think it is unreasonable to expect such a victim to be protected.

 

So now across the country the question has to be asked: when is a hate crime not a hate crime?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Attorney General, asking him to review sentences handed down in Ebrahimi case

Dear Mr Grieve, 

As co-ordinators of the Disability Hate Crime Network we would like the Attorney General to review the sentences handed down today to Lee James and Steven Norley in the case of Bijan Ebrahimi, a disabled Iranian man who was falsely accused of paedophila by a mob, and then burnt to death two days later in July 2013. 
 
James pleaded guilty to murder and was given a sentence of 18 years. Norley pleaded guilty to assisting an offender and was given four years. 
 
It is not thought that the police or the Crown Prosecution Service had asked the judge to enhance the sentence because of disability hostility, which would have meant that the judge could enhance Norley’s sentence under sec 146 of the CJA 2005 and James’s sentence under LASPO 2013 (the first of its kind). At any rate, the sentences are perceived by disabled people and other affected groups to be extremely low, given the overwhelming violence and sadism in the murder. 
 
The reason we believe that increasing the sentences is critically important is that Mr Ebrahimi was falsely accused of paedophilia, as have been a number of other disabled murder victims, a trend first highlighted by Katharine Quarmby in her book Scapegoat (2011) and then further identified and stressed in Hidden in Plain Sight, a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in 2011. 
 
The report stated of the false accusation of paedophilia against disabled people that police should “recognise the high level of risk faced by disabled people who have been labelled as ‘paedophiles’. This was not done by Avon and Somerset Police – if it had been done Mr Ebrahimi would not have been returned to his flat after being threatened by a mob chanting ‘paedophile’. The report further stated that this false accusation was ‘used as a term for targeting a disabled person, sometimes with extreme violence’, as happened in the Ebrahimi case and in at least seven other prominent cases identified by Quarmby and the EHRC. As this is, therefore, a recognised form of disability hate crime we call on the Attorney General to consider enhancing these sentences as hate crimes. This would mean that the murder would be the first one to reach the 30 year starting point under LASPO for a murder motivated by hostility towards a victim’s disability. (The Disability Hate Crime Network worked with Paul Maynard MP and Kate Green MP, the Shadow Disability Minister, to help effect this reform.)
 
We hope that the Attorney General will urgently review these lamentably light sentences in the light of this evidence. 
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Co-ordinators, the Disability Hate Crime Network
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