Half of Lancashire disabled people victims of crime

HALF of Lancashire’s disabled population have been victims of crime because of their condition, a shock study has revealed.

A major report has found ‘an incredibly high’ number of people in the county were ‘living in fear’ of disability hate crime.

Campaigners said problems included assaults, criminal damage and verbal abuse.

In one incident a man was pushed from his wheelchair ‘for fun’.

Now a campaign has been launched to support victims because the current system was found to be ‘failing’.

The report, by Lancashire Police and the county council, was compiled after questionnaires were sent to the county’s top 60 disabled people’s organisations.

It found:

    * Two thirds of people were frightened of being targeted
    * 13 per cent had moved house to avoid hate crime
    * Nearly half believed they had been a victim of crime because of their disability in the past six months

The study, released for the first time today, also found 46 per cent of people feared being a victim of crime at least once a month, adding: “This is an incredibly high number of people that are living in fear.”

Many cases were not being reported, it said, because victims felt nothing would be done, were confused by paperwork and feared revenge attacks.

People who gave evidence to the inquiry reported a range of physical and verbal abuse.

One said: “I’ve been told that I’m no good…I’ve been shot at and I’ve been burgled five times.”

There was also a report of youths regularly stealing a man’s walking stick and demanding money before it was returned.

One person said they were abused because their white stick had clipped passers-by, while another kept having their scooter stolen.

Another said: “Police were not helpful, suggested I stay in to prevent it happening.

“This is an infringement on my liberty.”

Their accounts were echoed by Stephen Brookes, of Blackpool, who is coordinator of the national Disability Hate Crime Network.

Mr Brookes, who works with Lancashire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Hate can be verbal abuse, pushing and shoving and general intolerance.

“I’m used to being told to get out of the way.

“I’ve had a fractured spine, two heart attacks and strokes, so occasionally I don’t feel like standing, but the aggression you meet asking people to move from a disabled seat on a bus is quite intense.

“At the worst level you get cases like David Askew, the man who was hounded to death in Manchester.

“The police were notified in his case, but so were social services and housing associations.

“Everybody knew but nobody did anything. If people work together like this, things could get sorted.”

Steve Allen, 57, of Burrell Avenue, Colne, has been campaigning for disabled people’s rights for several years.

He said: “More often than not young kids come banging on our windows and doors, shouting foul language because they know we can’t chase them.

“Something needs to be done and this does need clamping down on, but I believe these things happen because there isn’t enough for young people to do.”

Barry Whittle, 44, a disabled cyclist from Padiham who has suffered from spina bifida since birth, said he had encountered abuse when he was younger but was now more confident.

He said: “When I was a teenager I got the odd word called at me but I expected it.

“I don’t look disabled, but for somebody in a wheelchair or who happens to look disabled it can be very hard.

Denise Baker, a wheelchair user and chief executive of the charity Access Lancashire, said she often received verbal abuse when using her wheelchair, often from young men in passing cars.

She said: “We’re trying to raise awareness that disabled people don’t need to put up with being abused, verbally or physically.

“If it’s reported, to the police, to the council, or to organisations like us, something can be done about it.”

Police Superintendent Stuart Noble, chairman of the Safer Lancashire Board’s Hate Crime Group, said: “Hate crime is something we just won’t tolerate and we want to work together to tackle it.

“We’re also looking at the reporting process to ensure it is accessible.

“We now have a better understanding of the issues that disabled people face because of hate crime and we are looking forward to working with our partners on this important project.

“We will also be running a wider hate crime campaign to make people aware of the problem so they have the confidence to report it and know we will take action to help them out.”