‘We expect the police to fully investigate these hateful attacks and make sure the cowards who commit them feel the full force of the law’
Hate crimes against disabled people have soared to shocking levels – while only a tiny proportion of suspects have been charged. Between April 2021 and March 2022, at least 11,723 disability hate crimes were reported to police across the whole UK – a 25.5% increase from the previous year and the highest on record.
Some 11,224 took place in England and Wales – up by 24.9% from 8,983 reports the previous year. More than half of disability hate crimes reported last year involved violence (54.2%), up from 52.0% the previous year.
Another 9.8% of hate crimes were committed online – a lower proportion than in 2020-21 when 10.5% of reports concerned online incidents. Now disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response have warned that rising disability hate crimes, coupled with low rates of punishment, suggest that this sort of crime is “not being taken seriously”.
Across all England and Wales, just 1.1% of cases last year resulted in someone being charged, down from 1.9% the previous year. Analysis from United Response found that investigations were most commonly ended due to victims withdrawing support despite a suspect being identified.
In a joint statement, Leonard Cheshire and United Response said: “Record levels of reports coupled with a distinct lack of justice paint a worrying picture that these crimes are not being taken seriously enough. We’ve heard from many disabled people about the traumatic consequences of their awful experiences and the damage on their lives. The prevalence of disability hate crime is shocking and every report has a real person and real story behind it.
“Some forces are proactively trying to improve their responses and others can learn from this. But there needs to be widespread investment in training among officers so that support for victims improves and they get the justice they deserve. Government funding and action is vital so police have the resources they need to reduce prejudice and hate in our communities.”
Since the charities first used freedom of information (FOI) requests to gather the figures in 2018-19, disability hate crimes have increased every year, including during the pandemic when many crime types fell. The latest figures are more than double the 5,015 offences first recorded in 2018-19.
They are based on responses to FOI requests from 36 of 43 police forces across England and Wales, plus Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. But the two charities believe that far more incidents of disability hate crime could be going unreported.
They say a lack of appropriate support for disabled victims could lead to many feeling overwhelmed or lacking confidence in the criminal justice process. Other barriers to reporting could include variations in disability and diversity training for officers.
Now, Leonard Cheshire and United Response have called for a number of measures to reduce disability hate crime, including addressing ableism in the national curriculum, providing government funds to allow all police forces to recruit at least one disability liaison officer, and for the government to publish its hate crime action plan.
The charities also believe the Crown Prosecution Service should convene its proposed panel of Disabled People’s Organisations and other stakeholders as a matter of urgency.
A spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “Everyone has the right to live their lives without fear of being attacked, either physically or verbally. Hate crimes against disabled people are a particular shocking form of crime, motivated as they are by the perpetrator’s hostility to a victim’s disability. Aside from any physical injuries, we know that victims of disability hate crime are often intensely traumatised by these incidents.
“We will always pursue action against perpetrators where there is evidence to do so. Unfortunately, sometimes the evidence is scarce and there are no witnesses to the crime. Particularly in recent years, it may be the case that a suspect cannot be identified because of anonymity online, and a charge cannot be brought. Additionally, in some cases, for example where a perpetrator is young, a caution may be considered more appropriate than prosecution.
“We are already working closely with our criminal justice partners to understand the reasons behind a reduction in the percentage of crimes that go to court, including where victims withdraw from the justice process.
“We strongly encourage anyone who thinks they may have experienced any hate crime to report it to the police. Our officers are highly trained, will treat everyone with respect and dignity and handle cases sensitively. We ask that victims come to us as soon as possible after an offence has been committed so we can begin our investigation as early as possible. Victims can report by dialling 101 (999 in an emergency) or online through our True Vision web facility www.report-it.org.uk ”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Hate crime is a scourge on communities across the country. It does not reflect the values of modern Britain. While the rise in cases is likely to be largely driven by improvements in police recording, these can be serious crimes such as assault and we cannot be complacent. We expect the police to fully investigate these hateful attacks and make sure the cowards who commit them feel the full force of the law.”