Abuse of disabled people investigated in ‘Panorama: Why Do You Hate Me?’

by Lisa McGarry

Some disabled people are suffering abuse and hostility for no other reason than their disability, an investigation by BBC One’s Panorama has found.

Secretly recorded footage for Panorama: Why Do You Hate Me?, to be shown on Monday, shows a wheelchair user being mocked and threatened in a bar, while in another incident a mother and daughter film an attacker smashing every window on their mobility car.

Panorama reveals just how many such incidents go unrecorded.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer, admits that the justice system doesn’t always get it right when dealing with so-called “disability hate crime”.

He says: “I think there are lots and lots of incidents of disability hate crime. I think we haven’t collectively picked them up and investigated and prosecuted them in the way we should.”

Crown Prosecution Service figures for last year show there were 299 convictions for England and Wales. That compares to more than 9,500 for racial and religious hate crimes.

In Wales alone last year police recorded 116 such incidents, with just 18 convictions.

Simon Green, a wheelchair user from Bridgend, who presents the programme, secretly filmed a couple of his nights out to expose the hostility and abuse he sometimes experiences.

During one evening he’s confronted by a group of men who verbally abuse him, swearing at him and calling him a “cripple”, and suggesting he can really walk.

Simon, who has been a wheelchair user for six years, says during that time he has been physically as well as verbally assaulted just because he is disabled.

And, though the law has got tough on people who abuse others on the grounds of their race or religion, the attitude towards often low-level but continued abuse of disabled people seems far behind.

Simon also meets Irene Miles, 77, who was born disabled. She and her daughter Lorraine, who is her full-time carer, say they have suffered years of abuse at their Newport home.

Just a few months ago a CCTV camera captured a hooded man running around their vehicle, smashing every window before disappearing down the road. The vehicle is a lifeline for the family.

They’ve contacted police 60 times in the last five years but only this latest incident, which happened last November, has been categorised as a hate crime.

Lorraine says: “I feel as though the police think we’re a nuisance to them. I think now they’re sitting up and taking note but the help for me and my mum has come far too late.”

The family believe their case has similarities with the horrific story of Fiona Pilkington. She killed herself and her disabled daughter in Leicestershire after years of persistent abuse.

Gwent Police are now reviewing the handling of Lorraine and Irene’s case.

Chief Superintendent Paul Symes says: “I will do my upmost to ensure that this is not a Pilkington case for Gwent Police. I’m aware of what the learning was within Pilkington, part of that involved some criticism around some perception that agencies weren’t working together.”

Campaigners say disability hate crimes are too often unreported by victims and under-recorded by police – and that needs to change.

This programme is a version of a report originally broadcast by BBC Wales on 4 January 2010.

Panorama: Why Do You Hate Me?, Monday 15 February 2010, BBC One, 8.30pm