Page last updated at 05:58 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 06:58 UK

Disability hate crimes 'unseen'

Disabled man on street
Disabled people may be reluctant to report crimes carried out against them

Hate crimes against people with disabilities in Wales are unreported or unrecognised for what they are, campaigners and charities say.

Police recorded 132 such crimes last year, but charities said the true figures were much higher.

A report by cerebral palsy charity Scope suggested of 50 serious assaults against disabled people, only one was recorded as a hate crime.

Scope said more consideration was needed when categorising crimes.

Campaigners told BBC Wales' Eye on Wales programme that many disabled people were reluctant to report incidents, or were sometimes unaware they had been victimised.

Scope is calling for a more in-depth look at hostility as a motive in crimes against disabled people, with a view to tougher sentencing.

He'd come up to my shoulder and he'd say, 'you're not blind, you're…' and then various swear words
Sarah Craig

Under Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, sentencing can be enhanced if a hate crime motive is established.

Ruth Scott, policy director for Scope, said: "A lot of disabled people have experienced hate crime. They don't necessarily recognise that it's hate crime, they don't necessarily have the language to describe it.

"But part of that is related to the fact that disability hate crime is really hard to recognise and that the vast majority of police officers and others also don't recognise it.

"We found lots of incidences, including some very serious crimes like murders, where… this seems to have been motivated by hostility towards this person because they're a disabled person.

"[They] weren't being picked up, [or] being prosecuted using hate crime legislation, so the whole issue remains very hidden or invisible."

'Abusive'

Sarah Craig, from Bridgend, is visually impaired and uses a guide dog.

She has experienced intimidation and harassment which she believes is related to her disability.

"I had one guy who just literally followed me around Bridgend all day. He'd come up to my shoulder and he'd say, 'you're not blind, you're…' and then various swear words.

"Another guy, he… started dancing around in front of me and saying, 'how can you avoid me if you can't see me, you obviously can see me'.

"I'm lucky, I've got a little bit of sight, but even so, I knew he was there. I told him 'can I get past please' - he was just verbally abusive."

Gwent Police hosted a conference last week to raise awareness of disability hate crime, and the Crown Prosecution Service has established independent scrutiny panels to review case files on offences against disabled people.

Chris Woolley, chief crown prosecutor for south Wales, said: "This is a crime that we're all waking up to, just as we woke up to racial and religious crime some years ago, to homophobic crime, and crimes against the elderly.

"This is one more in that series that all of us working in the criminal justice system have to be alert to."

Eye on Wales is broadcast on Radio Wales on Monday 6 July at 1830 BST.



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SEE ALSO
MSPs approve new hate crime laws
03 Jun 09 |  Scotland
Does disability hate crime exist?
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