Hate crime reporting gap persists, but watchdog welcomes progress

There is still a substantial gap between the number of disability hate crimes committed and how many are reported to police, although many public bodies are “making progress” with their response to disability-related harassment, according to a new report.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was reporting on progress with how authorities are dealing with disability-related harassment, since it published Manifesto for Change last year.

The commission said that the case of Bijan Ebrahimi, who was murdered this summer in Bristol after suffering years of targeted harassment and abuse, highlighted “the urgent need for authorities to take further steps to ensure that harassment is taken more seriously”.

The watchdog said that more needed to be done, although some public bodies had made progress, and many of the recommendations in Manifesto for Change had been adopted.

But EHRC said that reporting, recording and recognition of disability-related harassment remained “a significant problem”. 

Although the police in England and Wales recorded 1,744 disability-related hate crimes, the 2010-2011 British Crime Survey estimated there were 65,000 incidents a year.

Further reviews of progress on tackling disability hate crime – following on from the commission’s inquiry into disability-related harassment, Hidden In Plain Sight, which reported in 2011 – will take place in two years’ and four years’ time.

Lord [Chris] Holmes, the EHRC’s disability commissioner, said: “Although we were encouraged by some of the positive examples of progress by public authorities, the tragic case of Bijan Ebrahimi is a stark reminder of the fact that many disabled people are abused daily and don’t get the protection they need and are entitled to expect.”

He added: “Despite austerity measures and cutbacks, the responses in this report show that many authorities are making progress in working in partnership with other organisations and with disabled people to bring about change.”

The report suggests there is “still more work to do to build disabled people’s confidence in using public transport”, despite the “significant amount of work undertaken by British Transport Police”, while work has begun to “design out” conflict between disabled and non-disabled passengers in “shared spaces” on public transport. 

The report also claims: “We have a better, albeit still incomplete, understanding of the circumstances and motivations of perpetrators, and the courts now treat disability-related harassment with the seriousness it warrants.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) marked one year since the introduction of new laws that have doubled the minimum tariff for disability hate crime murders.

Under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, murderers who target their victims because of their impairments, now face life sentences with a starting point of 30 years in prison, bringing such offences into line with murders motivated by hostility on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation.

But despite issuing a press release to mark the one-year anniversary, an MoJ spokeswoman said the department had no idea how many times – if at all – the new laws had been used.

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