BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates: Disability Hate Crime 21 September 2014

BBC Radio Five Live featured disability hate crime on Sunday 21st September 2014. 

The following 23 page transcript was made specially at Recompenz’s request by the programme’s staff at Media City in Manchester.

From 2015 Recompenz became known as London Investigates.
The contents have been reformatted slightly for presentation on London Investigates’ blog.


TX 21st September 2014 1100:1200

Producer: Carl Johnston
Presenter: Adrian Goldberg
Guest Presenter: Simon Green
Reporter: Ruth Evans

GOLDBERG: Hello, my name’s Adrian Goldberg. Thanks for downloading the 5 Live Investigates podcast. This week the victims of crime who were picked on simply because they’re disabled and who were then let down by the legal system. We’ll hear a former Director of Public Prosecutions tell us that disability hate crime is in the same place today as race hate crime was before the murder of Stephen Lawrence 21 years ago. So you’re disabled. Maybe you look or sound a bit different. Perhaps you’re in a wheelchair. Life is hard enough already. But on top of that, other people abuse or even attack you purely because of your disability. It’s shocking, outrageous – and sadly all too common. The latest figures say there were 120,000 disability hate crimes in just two years.

So what’s the law doing about it? Well, eighteen months ago a damning review found that victims were being let down by the justice system. And today we can reveal that key recommendations made in that report still haven’t been addressed. The former Director of Public Prosecutions has told me this week that in 2014 we are still in the place with disability hate crime that we were with race hate crime before the murder of Stephen Lawrence, 21 years ago. We’ll hear from Lord MacDonald shortly, but as always we want to hear from you – especially if you or someone in your family has been affected by what we’re talking about today. You can text us on 85058, email or on social media we’re @bbc5live. I’m joined in the studio this morning by Simon Green from the Disability Hate Crime Network – an organisation which campaigns against hate crime. Morning Simon.

GREEN: Hello Adrian.

GOLDBERG: And Simon, people may well remember you from an issue of the BBC’s Panorama programme four years ago. Here’s a reminder.


PRESENTER: Simon Green is a wheelchair user and lives in Wales. He has also been using a hidden camera to record his own experiences.

GREEN: People think I’m lying, people think I’m exaggerating. I wish I was lying, I wish I was exaggerating. People have verbally abused me, called me a spastic, called me a cripple. I have been tipped out of my wheelchair more times than I can remember.

GOLDBERG: So, tipped out of your wheelchair more times than you can remember? People found that hard to believe then. I think they might find that hard to believe now, Simon.

GREEN: Yes Adrian, and I can understand people finding it hard to believe unless they’ve actually witnessed it, but I can assure you it’s true and it does happen, it has happened to me many times. And it’s not just me. The general public don’t think that disability hate crime exists in 2014. We all know that racism and homophobia occurs, but most people think that everyone is nice and polite to the disabled. Most people are, but there are a small minority who are aggressive and hostile and who ruin lives.

GOLDBERG: So how do we define a disability hate crime?

GREEN: Well the Crown Prosecution Service would define it as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s disability or their perceived disability.’

GOLDBERG: So that’s the legal jargon. In practice, based on your experience, what kind of things are we talking about?

GREEN: It can be anything really from little snide comments to physical assault. I had one guy who would continuously knock against my wheelchair over and over again, shouting, ‘Stand up and be counted, stand up and be counted,’ and that had a devastating impact on me. He never made any derogative comments, but that, it sort of cut me like a knife.

GOLDBERG: What was he on? Did he think he was being funny?

GREEN: I’m sure he thought he was being funny. I think he thought he was being hilarious, but it certainly wasn’t funny, it certainly wasn’t a joke. And far worse things have happened. On one occasion I had a female friend sat on my lap and a guy walked over and punched me in the face and later said he did it because he thought it was wrong for an ugly spaz to be out with a pretty girl. And I hear lots of other stories like that, and you hear of lots of people with learning disabilities being befriended and then having their money stolen off them in a form of hate crime called mate crime. And, you know, all these things are really, really bad. You get blind people walked into lamp posts, etc.

GOLDBERG: I was chatting to a blind friend of mine only this week who said that she and her partner were deliberately steered by youths in her local town, who pointed them in a particular direction so that they would walk into a lamp post.

GREEN: I know, it’s horrific, and again people would find that hard to believe unless they’d actually witnessed it, but I hear of these stories on an almost weekly basis and it’s horrific.

GOLDBERG: Yes. In one particularly horrific case in Brighton this year, a blind man approached by a fellow who asked him what it was like to be blind. The fellow then set the blind man on fire and walked away. Let’s hear now from Lord Ken MacDonald. He was Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service between 2003 and 2008. Now he once described disability hate crime as ‘a scar on conscience of the criminal justice system’. So I began by asking him where we are now in terms of dealing with it.

MACDONALD: I think you’ve only got to look at the number of cases being picked up, of crime against disabled people and the proportion of those cases being identified as hate crimes is very, very low, I think so low that the only real conclusion is that we are still not adequately identifying these cases.

GOLDBERG: So where would you say we are now with regards to disability hate crime?

MACDONALD: Well, I think we’re in the place that race hate crime was before the Stephen Lawrence case. I mean, it was the Stephen Lawrence case, amongst one or two others, that gave us the real push, and an enormous amount of work was done following that case and the Lawrence Inquiry, an enormous amount of work by prosecutors, police and the judiciary, and the situation improved. We are now much better, we understand what race hate crime is, what it amounts to and how it should be dealt with, and we understand that severe sentences are appropriate where crimes are motivated by race. The problem we have with disability hate crime is that, while in theory we understand that it’s a very bad thing and that if it’s identified people should receive severe punishment, we’re not very good at identifying it and too often we are categorising disabled people who are the victims of hate crime as vulnerable people – that’s obviously a very bad thing – but they’re not crimes against disabled people motivated by hatred or hostility, and our failure to understand the hostility involved in these crimes, and therefore to categorise them as hate crimes, means that people who commit them are not getting severe enough sentences, and I think that’s a big problem, not just for disabled people who are not getting justice, but for society, which is failing to respond appropriately to a particularly vicious and unpleasant form of offending. I don’t think we should have a hierarchy of discrimination, we shouldn’t be saying that one type of discrimination is any worse or any better than another. We should treat all discrimination as being unacceptable and crimes of discrimination as being particularly serious, whatever the discrimination is directed to, whether it’s homophobia, whether it’s racism or whether it’s hostility towards disabled people. The courts should treat all these forms of discrimination as being equally bad.

GOLDBERG: How do you account for the fact that so many people say that disability hate crime just isn’t being taken seriously enough by the judiciary, compared to, say, race hate crime?

MACDONALD: Well, it’s terribly difficult to answer that question, because we have had, as the Stephen Lawrence case was a terrible case, we have had terrible cases of crimes against disabled people as well. People kept in sheds, beaten, murdered, taunted and bullied, sometimes for days before they were murdered. And even cases like that sometimes not identified as hate crimes, but instead as crimes against a vulnerable person. I think we just need everybody involved in criminal justice to take a long hard look at this issue, to understand the difference between categorising a victim as vulnerable and categorising him or her as disabled and the crime as motivated by hate and hostility. Those are two different things and criminal justice needs to, needs to grapple with the difference and needs to understand the difference. And it’s only when criminal justice does that, that disabled people are going to start to get the measure of justice which they deserve.

GOLDBERG: So that’s former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Ken MacDonald. And, Simon, there does seem to be a gap here between what the crime figures say and what people like you are saying. The Office of National Statistics says that the latest years for which we have figures, the two years to 2013, there were only 3,600 disability hate crimes recorded by the police.

GREEN: Yes, but according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, which is where people describe what has happened to them without necessarily reporting it to the authorities, there were 120,000 disability-motivated hate crimes over that same period. So that suggests the true amount of disability hate crime is much, much higher than police records show and I would back that.

GOLDBERG: We’ll get into that whole subject a little later of why police might be not the best people to report disability hate crime to as far as some victims are concerned. But one case that did come to the attention of the authorities involved Steven Simpson. His condition? Asperger Syndrome – a kind of autism. Now people with Asperger’s can struggle to socialise or interact with others. His mum, Bernadette, is in no doubt that his disability – together with the fact that he was openly gay – was linked to what happened to him on the night of his 18th birthday in June 2012. I went to see her at her home in Barnsley.


SIMPSON: This one is when he got a certificate at Barnsley Town Hall.

GOLDBERG: What did he get the certificate for?

SIMPSON: Erm, he used to go to a study group at the local libraries, because he liked studying computers and he were very good on computers, he were teaching me. Then that’s a passport book he made when he were at school, when he was just sort of starting out, he were five and that, and Steven had one to one support, because he had Asperger’s and autism.

GOLDBERG: When did you first know that Steven had Asperger Syndrome?

SIMPSON: He were diagnosed by the psychologist when he were at junior school and we had meetings because we were having, well, a few problems with the neighbours and they couldn’t understand why he didn’t integrate with their kids, It were just he didn’t want to play with them because he didn’t want to involve with them, you see. When they’ve got that condition they don’t want to mix with other children.

GOLDBERG: He was always then a little bit different from other children?

SIMPSON: Maybe a little bit but not quite, like I mean he were late potty training and everything, he had hearing problems so that caused a few problems, so we were at the doctors and medical centre a bit with him, you know what I mean and everything, so he made progress. And they said at school he won’t do as well as what I thought he would, but he did, I think he got nine or ten certificates through school and college, so there must be somebody been doing summat right by him.

GOLDBERG: And in terms of how he got on with other young people, given his disability, how did he mix when he got older, became a teenager?

SIMPSON: Some were genuine friends but others weren’t, you see. Some, well, weren’t very nice to him, you know. There was one girl, she did something, I won’t mention who, but she did summat ….

GOLDBERG: What did she do?

SIMPSON: Well, she was trying to set his hair on fire.

GOLDBERG: He’d already been picked on then, because he was different, because he had Asperger’s?

SIMPSON: Yeah he had, yeah. Even people taking money off him and things like that you know.

GOLDBERG: So what can you remember of the night that Steven died?

SIMPSON: Well, Steven just wanted an 18th birthday party, just you know, I said about six because I thought that’s what, all he can handle, you know, he couldn’t cope …

GOLDBERG: About six guests?

SIMPSON: Yeah, yeah, you know, and it seemed okay that night. When we went up, they were all sat down quiet and I thought, oh, it will be a nice night for him and everything, a bit of music, and this lad got up, ‘Oh, I’ll look after you, Steven.’ They seemed a nice bunch of kids like, you know, and I walked in and I introduced myself, said, ‘I’m Steven’s Mum.’ I rang him at half nine. Nothing seemed to be, there didn’t seem to be any problem, and I told neighbour downstairs, Shaun, ‘Just keep an eye on things,’ you know, and everything seemed okay. And the next morning the door were left open, and apparently Shaun, he shot in and then he saw this, well, horrific thing happened to Steven and he couldn’t believe it, he were like, it just affected him really bad, you know, himself, Shaun himself, like. And he had to automatically act very quick, you know, he had to literally throw him in a bath of water and then paramedics found him unconscious, and then, well there were horrible things like they’d drawn on him, arms with lipstick and his stomach and his face. I didn’t know this until actually I went to the court and saw the papers on the table. Yeah, so that were a bit disturbing for me like, you know. I didn’t know what to think really, it was unbelievable. One minute he were having a party, next minute he’s in hospital, all bandaged up from head to feet downwards.

GOLDBERG: And what happened?

SIMPSON: Erm, well they transferred him, I think on the Sunday, and then Sunday night he’d died. That was it. When I was at the hospital and I sat there looking at him, I thought, back of my mind I thought, Steven’s not going to pull through this, I’ve got to prepare myself, he might die from what these persons done to him, you know.

GOLDBERG: There you go, that’s Bernadette Simpson in Barnsley. Now as you heard, Steven Simpson’s 18th birthday party ended in tragedy. 29 people – not the six that his mum originally anticipated – had eventually crammed into his tiny flat and the evening ended with Steven being doused in tanning oil and set on fire. He died two days later from horrific burns. Now his killer – 20 year old Jordan Sheard – was jailed for just three and a half years after pleading guilty to manslaughter. The judge in the case had described the incident as ‘horseplay that had gone wrong’, but that wasn’t the view of his family or of disability charities. Simon Green from the Disability Hate Crime Network, your organisation believes this was a disability hate crime and one that was worthy of a tougher sentence.

GREEN: Absolutely. It certainly wasn’t horseplay and it should have had a tougher sentence. The Attorney General referred the case for appeal on the grounds that the sentence was unduly lenient. He argued that there was plenty of evidence to suggest Jordan Sheard was well aware of Steven’s vulnerabilities and that the court hadn’t heard the evidence that Jordan Sheard tried to exploit Steven’s suggestibility by getting him to blame someone else. But the three judges said that because the evidence had not been heard in the original court case, they couldn’t interfere with the sentence, which was very sad.

GOLDBERG cont: Well, we should say that the CPS has told us that it has now changed its guidance in cases like Steven’s so that fresh evidence can be heard at sentence review hearings, and they are asking prosecutors to request harsher sentences in cases where a victim’s disability is a factor in the crime. Coming up, we’ll hear about the man attacked and his life was put at risk just because he looked different. And don’t forget, we want your stories about disability hate crime too. You can email, text 85058 or on social media we’re @bbc5live. 


GOLDBERG: On 5 Live Investigates today, disability hate crime. The former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Ken MacDonald, has already told us that we’re only at the same stage with disability hate crime now as we were with race crime before Stephen Lawrence was murdered 21 years ago. Getting your comments on this alongside campaigner Simon Green from the Disability Hate Crime Network, and Simon, I just want to reflect on a couple of texts that we’ve had in making a similar point. One texter says, ‘What about geek crime, when people beat up someone because you read books? It happens. Bullies prey on anyone vulnerable, not just the disabled so that should be the focus, not the disability.’ Peter in Sheffield says, ‘Doubling sentences because the crime falls into a particular category is bad law, whatever the offence, and leads to other forms of injustice. When do we stop making special cases?’ Both those listeners saying why do we have this category, disability hate crime?

GREEN: The difference is, anyone can be the victim of a crime, and if you’re the victim of a crime it’s difficult to get over sometimes. But if that crime was a personal attack on you because of your disability, because of the way you look or because of your race or because of your sexuality, it’s far more difficult to get over. It takes a lot, lot longer to deal with, and even ….

GOLDBERG: Because it’s based on something about you that you ultimately cannot change?

GREEN: Absolutely, absolutely. Anyone can be the victim of a random attack, but if you’re bullied specifically because of the way you look, it is far worse and the sentences should be increased.

GOLDBERG: More from Simon coming up later. Keep your comments coming as well. You can text us on 85058 or email Now a major review into disability hate crime was published in March 2013. It said that disability hate crime was overlooked and under-reported – and it drew attention to what’s known as Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, saying this was under-used. Now Section 146 is a law that allows judges to increase an offender’s sentence where their crime is aggravated by hostility to someone because they are disabled. Now although the Crown Prosecution Service recorded 810 disability hate crimes in the previous year, the inspectors could only find seven cases where Section 146 was used to beef up a punishment – fewer than 1% – and they called on the CPS to start recording disability hate crime accurately, and identify where sentences had been increased under Section 146. But when we asked the Crown Prosecution Service for figures for this programme, they said they didn’t have them. It begs the question of whether, eighteen months on, much has changed. I asked the Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service, Michael Fuller, who helped prepare the report eighteen months ago, what else his inspection team had uncovered.

FULLER: Our main findings were three main things. That there was a real need to improve awareness amongst practitioners – that’s police officers and prosecutors – as to what hate crime is and have a clear definition. There were lots of definitions used by different agencies and what we wanted was one clear definition so everybody knew what they were referring to in terms of disability hate crime. The other thing we wanted, and we spoke to lots of victims’ groups, we wanted the victims to feel able to report disability hate crime, because certainly in the groups of victims we spoke to, they were very reluctant or felt it might be a waste of time because of the response by the authorities. And I think the third thing was about ensuring that practitioners had good systems for recording disability hate crime, because we found some of the actual numbers were very unreliable and we felt didn’t reflect the true level of hate crime that currently exists in this country.

GOLDBERG: Would it be fair to say that you agreed with campaigners that the criminal justice system was letting many victims of disability hate crime down?

FULLER: Yes, we did, and we did that on our evidence base. The numbers were low and yet victims were telling us, you know, we didn’t have a true record and they were reluctant to report the crime. The other thing is that prosecutors were not actually drawing to the courts’ attention when there was a disability hate crime and inviting the court to make use of a particular legislative provision, Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which would enable the court to actually increase the sentence where that crime is aggravated by disability hate crime, and we found that that wasn’t being used, that sentencing provision wasn’t being drawn to the court’s attention, so that was very disappointing.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I think in the year to January 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service recorded 810 disability hate crime files – a number which campaigners and victims suggested was far lower than the real rate of disability hate crime. But in any event, of those 810, only seven was granted a sentence uplift under Section 146.

FULLER: Yes. We were very surprised by that and we were also very concerned, but we’ve drawn this to the attention of the Crown Prosecution Service in particular, and what we’d hope to see is an increase in these Section 146 instances where the prosecutor draws to the court’s attention, that this particular crime has been aggravated and somebody had been targeted because of their disability, so we’re hoping that we see an increase in that figure.

GOLDBERG: When we contacted the Crown Prosecution Service and asked them about the number of sentence uplifts, which were applied under Section 146 relating to disability hate crime, they said they couldn’t provide the information. What do you make of that?

FULLER: Well, I still think there’s a lot more work to be done. It’s important we have accurate records in relation to this problem so that we can tackle it effectively. And what we’d expect to see, certainly a year, eighteen months after we’ve FULLER cont: completed the report and given the report to the CPS, we’d expect to see an improvement in performance, and generally we’ve seen that. They have done some things that I’m aware of in the meantime. In the intervening time, they’ve appointed what they call hate crime coordinators, so these are individuals who actually look and review the paperwork and the prosecution files and look to ensure that there’s better recording of those offences that are actually hate crimes.

GOLDBERG: There you go, the Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service, Michael Fuller. The CPS told us they are introducing mandatory recording of cases where Section 146 is used to increase sentences in cases of disability hate crime during the current financial year, although they couldn’t say exactly when. We also asked for an interview with Alison Saunders, the head of the CPS. We were told she was too busy to talk to us. In a statement, though, they said it was a priority to tackle disability hate crime and that they’ll publish a comprehensive action plan in the coming weeks, and they added that while prosecution for disability hate crime has more than tripled to 640 since they began monitoring in 2007 and 2008, they don’t believe that current prosecutions levels reflect the experience of actual offending and accept that much more needs to be done.

Now we’ve been talking about those on the receiving end of hate crime sometimes being wary, perhaps, of going to the police. The charity Disability First has launched a series of reporting centres which enable victims to report incidents without visiting a police station. We went along to their centre in Blackpool and met Karen Herschell, who runs the Hate Crime Reporting Service, and a volunteer called George, who was the victim of a hate crime.


HERSCHELL: We kind of act as an intermediary for people who may not wish to report to the police or to any other statutory authorities. A lot of disabled people perhaps have had incidents before where they haven’t been dealt with or they’re fearful of going to the police. A lot of people have said that sometimes they don’t want to waste police time.

GEORGE: Going to a police station, you can feel intimidated at times and that you won’t be taken seriously. I thought they would take one look at us and say like they wouldn’t believe me, like go and away and sort yourself, your own problems out. I mustered up everything that I had, I wanted to report it, wanted to stop it.

HERSCHELL: A lot of people face things on a daily – even hourly – basis, so people tend to feel that’s something that they just get used to.

GEORGE: We’d had a lot of bad feeling towards one another. Came round to my house in the middle of the night, started banging on the window, phoning my house phone, my mobile phone constantly, banging on the door, windows, trying to smash the door down, shouting through the letterbox what he were going to do if he got hold of me.

HERSCHELL: We listen to people, we listen to their story and a lot of it is really about believing that person, making them feel comfortable. Nine times out of ten people are very happy for me then to liaise with the police and then hopefully we can find the solution that the person wants.

GEORGE: A marker was put on for that I was vulnerable. Two more incidents happened and the police came within five minutes and he was given a harassment order, which was enduring. He’s not allowed to contact me.

HERSCHELL: I’ve helped Lancashire Police train their officers and front line staff, just to get that little bit of understanding, so when they go to any kind of incident, what they’re then doing is thinking, well hang on a minute, this person is perhaps disabled and they’re starting to think, well, is disability an issue here?

GOLDBERG: So that’s a scheme in Lancashire being rolled out by a charity, an example of best practice that’s going to be rolled out across the country. But Simon Green, why are disabled people so often reluctant just to go to the police and report that they’ve been victims of crime?

GREEN: Well, a lot of people first of all don’t realise they are victims of crime. There are lots of disabled people out there who just put up with the name calling every day and have no idea that what’s being said to them is a criminal offence. Other disabled people are a little bit worried about recriminations, worried the police might not take them seriously, and, you know, that’s the main issue. Lots of people have reported incidents and it’s got worse, but I would tell people, please do report it to the police. But also some police officers are a little afraid to ask, why do you think you’re being targeted? Do you think you’re being targeted because you’re disabled? Actually ask that question. A lot of the time it’s not being asked and that’s why Section 146 isn’t being used in lots of cases.

GOLDBERG: Now I’ve spoken to ACPO – the Association of Chief Constables, Chief Police Officers. They say the police service does recognise that disability hate crime has been under-reported, but they say they have created the True Vision website to simplify the reporting process for these crimes and they are working hard to increase the reporting of these offences. Coming up… the man beaten up and hospitalised simply because he has a disability that makes him look different.


GOLDBERG: We’ve been getting your reaction as well to this this morning with journalist and campaigner, Simon Green, from the Disability Hate Crime Network. I’ll run through a couple of comments, Simon, and get your reaction to them. One emailer says, ‘I’m totally blind and I think our biggest problem in dealing with hate crime is actually the Crown Prosecution Service. I’ve had two offences committed against me – one in view of a CCTV, the other in front of a witness, and in both cases, although the police wanted to process the case, the CPS said they couldn’t proceed as I, as a blind person, would not be able to actually see the culprit in the courtroom, so could not give evidence.

GREEN: That’s absolutely dreadful and I think that the person who made that decision is wrong. I’ve met other people that work within the Crown Prosecution Service who’ve dealt really, really well with other incidents where people with visual impairments have been involved and attacked. One in particular when a guy was verbally abused at a bus stop and they actually found CCTV image on the bus which the perpetrators came in and off, so they were caught and they went to prison. But it’s really, really sad, the person who made that decision needs to be hauled over the coals as far as I’m concerned.

GOLDBERG: Here’s one more. ‘I’m a middle aged person of average height, normal weight, not disabled, live in a nice area, regularly verbally abused by feral gangs of youths. They intimidate only when I’m on my way, not with friends. The fact is, I never had this in my twenties or thirties. They can’t cope with anything different to themselves. More education is needed at school.’

GREEN: Absolutely.

GOLDBERG: Let’s get more of your reaction later. Give us a text to 85058 or email Let’s hear the story of Reece Roberts. Reece suffered life-changing injuries when he was punched in the face outside a pub in Blackpool. Reece, who is 25, has Sotos Syndrome – it’s also known as cerebral gigantism. This is a condition which means he is taller, thinner than most people, has a slightly larger head as well, and his mum, Millissa Roberts, is with me in the studio. Millissa, good morning to you, you alright?

ROBERTS: Morning.

GOLDBERG: And you believe your son was attacked because of his disability, the way he looks?

ROBERTS: Definitely.

GOLDBERG: Tell us a bit about what happened.

ROBERTS: My son was outside Bar 19, having a cigarette. Basically this stranger called Tom Field just basically walked up to him and punched him in the face, just randomly basically, and my son fell, banged his head and he’s been in hospital ever since.

GOLDBERG: And what state is he in? You were telling me outside, just before we came on air, that he’s had a bit of a setback in recent days?

ROBERTS: Yes, yes, he has. He’s had a lot of operations. About a week and a half ago, just overnight he had a setback. They’ve done numerous tests and different things and they cannot find what it is at the moment. He’s okay, Reece, but he’s very weak.

GOLDBERG: And he’s in hospital now, what, permanently?

ROBERTS: He’s in Preston Hospital, he’s been in hospital ever since, like, last September – nearly a year now.

GOLDBERG: So what difference has the attack made to his life? How was he before and how is he now?

ROBERTS: Before, he was bubbly. All he lives for is Man United. He watches his matches and he’s funny, he’s just so jolly, but now he can’t walk, he can’t talk, he has fits, he’s got spastica now. There’s numerous things that’s up with him regarding what happened to my son.

GOLDBERG: All as a result of this one punch, which you think was because he just looks a bit different?

ROBERTS: Yes. Because of his condition, his Sotos Syndrome, you know, yes I do, I do, I feel very strongly that Tom Field hit him because of his condition.

GOLDBERG: We’ll come back to you in a moment. We were there when you visited Reece in hospital this week. Let’s just have a listen to that.


GOLDBERG: Let’s take that blanket off, because it’s really warm, isn’t it? Eh? That’s a good lad, that’s it. Do you want to have a look at the paper? Try and turn it over – that’s it. Man City lost. Who do we want? We want Man U, don’t we? Do you want to put yes or no? Say for Man U. Yeahhhh! You’re passionate for Man United, aren’t you, son? Ever since you was a little boy, ain’t you, son, eh? So proud of you, son, so proud of you. You’re doing so well.

GOLDBERG: So, Millissa, catastrophic life-changing injuries for your son, and I can understand you being overcome with emotion as you listen to that now. His attacker, Thomas Field who you mentioned, was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm, jailed for twenty months. Did the police ever raise the issue of disability hate crime with you?

ROBERTS: No, not a one. They didn’t bring anything in any way, shape or form. If anything, I was left in the dark with the court, CPS, and it just goes to show that there’s no justice for what he’s done to my son. Ten months and he’s out.

GOLDBERG: And you believe that this ….

ROBERTS: It’s definitely because of his disability and the way Reece looks, definitely …

GOLDBERG: And that should have been, that should have been taken into account in sentencing?

ROBERTS: Yes definitely, definitely. And they should have asked Tom Field when they interviewed him regarding Reece’s condition, but I feel that they never did.

GOLDBERG: They just saw it as a random attack and ignored the disability angle of it. Millissa, thank you. We did ask the Crown Prosecution Service about this case. They tell us it was never brought to their attention that Reece had a disability but say that if they had been told, they would have treated it as an aggravating factor. Lancashire Police said the case was treated as a single punch assault and was never flagged to them as a disability hate crime. Now Katharine Quarmby says she knows of far too many cases like Reece’s. She’s a journalist who started investigating disability hate crime seven years ago and she’s the author of a book called ‘Scapegoat: Why we are failing disabled people.’ I asked her what motivated her to look at crimes against disabled people.

QUARMBY: I first became interested in disability hate crime when I came across the case of Kevin Davies, a young man with epilepsy who was tortured – I think there is no other word for it – and kept in a shed by so-called friends in the Forest of Dean. He was starved, held hostage and burnt with cigarettes and eventually he died. The Crown Prosecution Service couldn’t decide, it wasn’t possible with the medical evidence at that time whether he died because of the maltreatment, and his attackers received very short sentences, and I started investigating and found many other cases that seemed to be covered by this phrase that we’ve come to know as disability hate crime.

GOLDBERG: You started campaigning on this in 2007. Here we are seven years later. Have our attitudes or the attitudes of the judiciary and the legal system changed in those seven years?

QUARMBY: Yes, I think attitudes of some people in the legal system absolutely have changed and I’d pay tribute to some of the senior police officers I’ve worked with. But we have to see judges change their attitudes. So many people can’t see that this crime is happening and disabled people are suffering because of it.

GOLDBERG: Just tell me about the depth of what you uncovered as you started investigating disability hate crime.

QUARMBY: I think we have to do something about this hatred and fear of disabled people that seems to just not go away. It’s like a river of dislike and fear that just runs underneath our society. Some people find that part of life very, very frightening and therefore hate that reflection of themselves in disabled people. And I think what we need to confront that, actually, is good perpetrator research and we haven’t had that. And I think the sooner we have that, the better. It’s kind of the missing link in all of this.

GOLDBERG: That’s finding out who carries out these kind of disability hate crimes and why.

QUARMBY: Yes. We haven’t had the perpetrator research, even though it has been promised for two years, and if we knew why people carried out disability hate crimes, we would be a lot further forward than we are today.

GOLDBERG: There you go, that’s Katharine Quarmby saying we need to do much more work on identifying the reasons why these crimes happen and what motivates the perpetrators. So many of you as well responding to Reece’s story that we just heard a few minutes ago. Cathy in Manchester saying, ‘Listening to your programme on disability hate crime, open-mouthed with disbelief and dismay and despair.’  Ulster Shaker says, ‘How can anyone hate disabled people? There but for the grace of God go any of us. No one chooses to be disabled, do they?’ And Footie Shoe Girl says, ‘How utterly sickening. What kind of pond life would do such a horrendous thing?’ So, Simon Green, Katharine is saying, look, we need to get to understand why people commit disability hate crimes. Why do you think people are picked on for being disabled?

GREEN: There’s a number of reasons and the person that called in, yes, it is absolutely sickening, but I think a lot of people are fearful of disabled people. A lot of people look at someone who is disabled and think, God, I don’t think I could cope, I don’t think I could live my life if I was disabled, and sometimes that comes out in hatred. And a lot of people don’t realise that the language they use and some of the lesser incidents, how offensive and horrible that is. There was one young man from West Wales who I spoke to and he was called a spastic, a cripple and a retard on a daily basis. But the thing that affected him most was that lots of people called him Forrest Gump. He used to say, ‘If someone calls me a spaz across the street, most of the time people will go, woah, don’t say that, don’t say that.’ But when everybody called him Forrest Gump everybody laughed, everybody joked. People said, ‘Oh, what’s the matter, what’s the matter?’

GOLDBERG: So, if you like, the hate words, the conventional hate words that I’m sure will offend some people listening, other people would intervene and say, ‘Look, you can’t use that language….’

GREEN: A lot of the time, yes.

GOLDBERG: ‘… that’s wrong,’ but if he was called Forrest Gump, to him it was more offensive, but to people in general it was, oh, that’s a bit of a laugh, it’s just a funny name.

GREEN: And they would laugh and joke along with it and there’s a fear of disabled people as well. I think a lot of people are jealous, because people assume if you’re disabled you live a life of luxury on benefits, you get a free car, you get an adapted house for nothing, which isn’t true. But even if that was true, why somebody would want to go along and punch somebody like Reece Roberts was punched, I don’t know. It is horrific and it is sickening and far more education needs to be done in the schools. I know you mentioned that earlier.

GOLDBERG: Simon, thank you. Still to come – what more can we do then to combat disability hate crime? We’ll be chatting shortly to the Justice Minister. And more of your stories and comments too. You can text us on 85058 or email


GOLDBERG: Today we’re talking about disability hate crime. Heard some shocking stories about people being victimised for, well, being different. And discovered that, despite reviews and recommendations, little seems to have been done in the legal system to improve the monitoring of disability hate crime. Let’s talk now to the Minister of State for Crime Prevention, Norman Baker. Norman, good morning to you.

BAKER: Good morning.

GOLDBERG: Do you accept that the criminal justice system is failing disabled people?

BAKER: Well, I think to some extent it is, because we’re behind a curve, we’ve got a situation where society is changing and, if not completely changed, the fact that people are assaulting and picking on disabled people just because of what they are, I don’t think has been recognised as widely as it might have been until quite recently. We are taking steps to try to improve matters. There’s new operational guidance, for example, for police officers dealing with hate crimes, which was issued in May by the College of Policing. We’re taking steps to improve the recording of crimes of this nature and working with the Crown Prosecution Service to review, identify disability hate crime cases, to learn lessons and to get greater consistency. And we’re working with disability groups to continue developing our hate crime action plan, bringing together work by a wide range of departments. But look, I mean, you know, what happens in the courts and the police just simply mirrors what happens to some extent in society. Until quite recently, after all people were able to be discriminated again without very much in the way of penalty on the basis of their sexuality, the colour of their skin or anything else. We’ve got to eradicate these sorts of behaviours in society, but there’s a long, long history of this which has to be worked on.

GOLDBERG: Sure, but Mr Baker, sorry to interrupt, but I mean, eighteen months ago there was a joint criminal justice inspection report which identified the fact that the monitoring of disability hate crime and the occasions when this Section 146 is used to increase sentences, the report said, look, we need to monitor this and we need to make sure that this is built into the system. Eighteen months on, the CPS still can’t give us the figures, so it suggests that someone perhaps may be not taking this quite as seriously as you do.

BAKER: Well, I don’t know if that’s entirely fair. I mean, we have taken steps in the last few months, with the ones I outlined to you a moment ago, including the new guidance for police officers and the working together between the Home Office (my department) and the Ministry of Justice, which handles the Crown Prosecution Service. But what we’re talking about is a sea change in public attitude to accept a principle that nobody should be discriminated against because of a characteristic they have. We’ve made progress, I think, on race, we’ve made progress, I think, on sexual orientation, but we’ve got to go further now on disability, which I think hasn’t yet come to the public consciousness in the way that race and sexual orientation have.

GOLDBERG: Norman, stay there if you would, just for a moment.. We’ve also got Simon Parkinson on the line from the charity, Mencap. Good morning to you, Simon.

PARKINSON: Morning, Adrian.

GOLDBERG: So, are hate crime victims getting justice if they’re disabled?

PARKINSON: I think, as we’ve heard on your show this morning, there’s a real issue out there for people with disabilities and with learning disabilities as well. Things are getting better, we’ve been campaigning on this issue at Royal Mencap Society with our network of local Mencap groups since 2011 and we’ve seen since then that 42 police services and 25 Police and Crime Commissioners have backed our campaign and signed our charter, but there’s much more still to do and the woeful prosecution rate of only 1% of reported crime speaks for itself.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, it’s interesting, that. Norman Baker talks about the journey that we’ve made and maybe when it comes to homophobia, maybe when it comes to race hate crime, even if people have antigay or have racial hatred feelings, they know that it’s not the done thing to express them. Is disability hate behind those other issues, do you think? Are people more confident to express hate towards a disabled person?

PARKINSON: I think disability hate crime is behind all those others. I think Simon touched on it in the studio. Unfortunately there’s still a narrative across our society and it’s sometimes mentioned by elected officials and so-called philosophers that disabled people are a burden on our society. If that sort of narrative is out there, it’s unsurprising that a violent minority of people will feel its okay to victimise and abuse people with disabilities on a daily and persistent basis.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, Norman Baker, let me put that point to you, that demonisation of people on benefits are somehow reflected onto our attitudes towards disabled people.

BAKER: Well, there may be some truth in that. I think part of … it was an interesting discussion before I came on about motivation here and I think perhaps there is a fear of disability which then people express against the disability itself in the form of the person who happens to be disabled, who just happens to be there in a sense, it’s a fear of that. But yes, I mean, I think there is unfortunately, in some of our newspapers, a kind of attack people on benefits culture, irrespective of their particular circumstances, and sometimes, I’m afraid, some of our popular press pretends that everybody who is on benefits is a scrounger, which is completely untrue. So, I mean, that doesn’t help, I’m afraid.

GOLDBERG: Katharine Quarmy, though, suggested that research had been promised into why people carry out disability hate crime, but she says those promises have not been acted on, so is there any commitment to investigate why these crimes are carried out, any research guaranteed here?

BAKER: Well, I’m not quite sure who promised what research when, I’m sorry to say. I will look into that matter when I get back to the Home Office tomorrow. But I mean, I certainly agree with you that it’d help to understand the motivation which drives people on and that’s one way we can tackle this appalling crime.

GOLDBERG: Norman Baker, thanks very much indeed for your time this morning. So many stories coming in as well. Simon Green here. This is from Sharpzilla, says, ‘Saw a group of lads throwing stones, swearing and following two disabled women. Had to intervene. People were just ignoring and walking by.’ So much of this stuff out there.

GREEN: It happens all the time and a lot of people do walk by. They don’t want to get involved, they’re afraid they might get hit themselves. But what I would say to somebody, if you are afraid to get involved, at least phone the police, make a note of it. There’s third party reporting for, lots of places are third party reporting centres, so you can phone the police, you can tell them what you’ve seen. Because very often, as I say, a disabled person doesn’t know they’ve been a victim of crime, so it should be up to us as a society. Everybody listen to this, if you know somebody with a disability who’s been victimised, please ring the police or go and ask that individual do they need any help.

GOLDBERG: Simon Parkinson, quite a lot of our listeners are saying, look, it is quite distressing to hear these accounts. We should bear in mind what Simon said to us earlier, most people most of the time don’t behave like this towards people with disabilities, but there does seem to be this kind of poisonous undertow.

PARKINSON: No, I agree. I think the vast majority of people in our society welcome the diversity that disability brings into our society, and what we need to do is concentrate on the common values, the common beliefs, the common interests we have. For instance, it sounds like both Reece and I will be right behind Man United this afternoon PARKINSON cont: …against Leicester. You know, that’s something that unites us whether with Reece’s disability and myself, so let’s focus on what we’ve got in common and not what the differences are.

GOLDBERG: Simon, thanks very much indeed for your time. Interesting comment from Anthony in Leeds. He says, ‘I think that with a lot of the lower level stuff, people might genuinely not know it’s inappropriate. My brother has Asperger’s, he was doing voluntary work in a charity shop. He overheard the manager refer to him as a mongie. I confronted the manager but it was obvious that he didn’t mean it in a malicious way – to him it was just a word that he used as a description, and this was someone in a managerial position. I think that some words such as mongie or spaz are just seen as acceptable descriptions. People need re-educating,’ says Anthony. Thanks for listening to the 5 Live Investigates podcast. Before we go, still got Simon Green here from the Disability Hate Crime Network. Simon, just a few of the comments that have come in. This is from Dave Erskine. He says, ‘I’m the headteacher of a special school for children with learning difficulties. This kind of thing has gone on for years,’ he says, ‘and is still prevalent. Work in schools on a par with how racism is addressed is essential to bring this dreadful behaviour to an end.’

GREEN: Absolutely. Schools need to do far more. I’ve actually been to a number of junior and comprehensive schools in my area and you talk about these issues to teenagers directly and they seem to understand it more than adults, if that makes sense, and you hope that by doing that sort of thing that they will not go outside and become the next generation of bullies. And as we mentioned earlier, a lot of people will make comments like mong and spaz and not realise how offensive they are. But if you can get that through to youngsters at a young age, then hopefully they will not go on and make those comments, even if it’s aimed at a friend on the football pitch who can’t kick a ball properly, we all shout, ‘Oh, you spaz, what are you doing?’ or shout rude words at a referee, and, you know, you might have somebody in the audience with you who’s got a disability, who has got a relative with a disability, and that could cause a huge, huge, massive amount of offence.

GOLDBERG: Dave in London says the Government have to take some of the blame for disability hate crime by turning the disabled into bogeymen through its media campaign against benefit scroungers. Al though with a point that was addressed GOLDBERG cont: …earlier on in the show says, ‘These are mainly just crimes. Plenty of people are attacked at random, some of them will be disabled, gay, old, foreign, whatever. This hate crime is PC nonsense in most cases,’ says Al.

GREEN: Well, the latest one, it’s not PC nonsense. Anyone could be the victim of a crime, but if you are targeted specifically because you have a disability, because of the colour of your skin, your religious beliefs, your sexuality or your transgender status, it is a personal attack on you. If somebody came up and had a go at me and said I was an idiot, I was a moron, fair enough. If somebody added in I was a spaz, a cripple, even if I’d done something wrong and they rightfully were having a go at me about something, there is no need to add those words in. And with the guy that mentioned about the Government’s to blame, it hasn’t helped. Certain comments, mentioned earlier certain comments in the press, but certain comments from certain politicians about benefit scroungers and the number of people on Disability Living Allowance are committing fraud don’t help. But we cannot blame them completely, because even if they said something really bad and untrue, they’re not responsible for then somebody going out and punching Reece Roberts or tipping me out my chair, you know. It doesn’t help, but they’re not responsible.

GOLDBERG: Final word on this for now from Anna C Young in London. She says, ‘Adrian, we should celebrate difference.’ Don’t forget, if there’s something you want us to investigate, you an email



Research for the 5 Live Investigation was conducted by Recompenz/London Investigates under the former Twitter handle @stpdh

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