JUSNews EXCLUSIVE: ‘People grab my wheelchair and push me out’ – disability hate crime TREBLES in South Yorkshire in just three years, with little police action

Disability hate crimes recorded in South Yorkshire  have more than trebled in just three years – and hardly anyone’s facing police action.

Figures obtained by JUS News under the Freedom of Information Act show there were 68 offences last year, up on 20 in 2014 and 37 in 2015. Over that same period, just twelve people have faced police action.

Benjamin Johnson, 25, from Darnall, has brittle bones disease which means his bones can be broken by something as harmless as a sneeze or a laugh.

Benjamin Johnson, 25, has been a victim of disability hate crime in Sheffield

He said: “I’ve had bags stolen off the back of my chair. I’ve had one of them cut off the back of my wheelchair with a knife. I’ve had people grab hold of my wheelchair and push me out. I’ve had a person pull a knife on me when I’ve come home just along the main road.

“When I’ve been on nights out with friends, I’ve had people come up to me and ask me for money, and when I’ve refused, they’ve either been abusive or have got violent, which has forced me to run away or I’ve had to call the police.

“A couple of times they’ve helped but other times they have not because I suppose wheelchairs don’t count. I just don’t feel there is a form of help for disabled people in distress.”

Six months ago, Ben says he had his front door kicked in. “I was asleep waiting for my partner to arrive and I had the door unlocked,” he said

“They tried the door and then kicked the door. I woke up. They heard me wake up and so ran off.  There wasn’t much structural damage. It wasn’t locked. If it was locked, there would be cracks in the door.

“I did not ring the police. I should have. I know I should have.”

Part of Ben’s front door security lock was kicked off in a suspected hate incident.

South Yorkshire Police define hate as “an incident or crime which is perceived to be motivated by prejudice or hostility (or perceived to be so).”

Their recorded crime figures include three reports of pouring glue into locks, eight of harassment via social media, text message or telephone and 59 of abusive taunts and aggression. A further 45 reports have been recorded for threats or actually inflicting violence on a disabled person.

Andy Greene, from campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts, told JUS News that the figures probably underestimate just how much hate people were having to tolerate.

“I think the figures are probably the tip of the iceberg because there’s no real way of gauging how many people are isolated and marginalised, and on the fringes of their own communities,” he said.

“The mechanisms the police have for even acknowledging, recognising or recording hate crimes in the first instance against disabled people are flawed and misunderstood.

“The training isn’t there and neither is the knowledge of what’s going on. Unless there are clear red flags the whole legal system doesn’t really get it, and I think that’s evident in the under-reporting.”

Superintendent Sarah Poolman, hate crime force lead at South Yorkshire Police, said that they had been working hard but that bringing people who commit disability hate crimes to justice was a continuing challenge.

She told JUS News: “We’ve been working really hard with our partners because nationally disability hate crime is recognised as being significantly under-reported and I believe that even though we’ve seen this dramatic increase since 2014, it is still significantly under-reported.

“There are vast swathes of disabled people in our communities who are targeted but don’t even know they’re a victim.

“What we’ve been doing over the last few years is to raise awareness amongst disability groups and the rights of victims to come forward and tell us what’s going on.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work with people who have learning disabilities who are targeted because of their disability, and whether they have the capacity to understand they are a victim and get the support.

“There are around 50 per cent of all suspects – not offenders – who are not identified during an investigation. We’ve been digging into that to understand it better, and this is frequently where someone faces verbal abuse in the street.

“Unless they’re known to the individual or there is CCTV that clearly identifies their face, our opportunities to find out who said what are challenging. And this is a consistent picture over the last few years. This remains a challenge.

“As soon as you’ve identified a suspect, you’ve then got to get the evidence. South Yorkshire Police are trying to get better at recording the outcome appropriately. The vast majority of hate crime is at the lower end of the spectrum but I don’t say that to minimise the issue. The victims often don’t want to prosecute. They want to do restorative justice or mediation, and we want to do what the victim wants us to do rather than just imposing prosecution on the perpetrator.”

Ms Poolman urged those affected by hate crime to contact police.

She said: “The only way this is going to stop is if the disabled person comes forward and tells us. It doesn’t have to be the person themselves, anyone can come and report it who witnesses these crimes can report it to us. They can go to a local community support group or a third party reporting centre.

“There is a genuine perception by a lot of victims that reporting will attract problems, but the reality is, when we review it, very low.

“The intervention by police solves the vast majority of problems. The re-offending post-police intervention in the vast majority of time is effective in stopping the problem but it is about being more robust and saying ‘we do not tolerate this’.

“Even if we don’t prosecute that individual, just by saying ‘this is not acceptable’ is often an effective means of preventing it from happening again.”