CCP for Gloucestershire focuses on hate crime

25/05/2010

The right to live free from fear and harassment is a fundamental right for all of us. We should never allow members of our community to be criminally targeted just because of who they are, whether it is because of the colour of their skin, because of their religion, sexuality or disability.

The CPS takes these hate crimes very seriously and we are determined to prosecute those who commit them, whilst supporting the victim through the criminal justice system. Not all crimes committed against disabled people are hate crimes, but if we can prove hostility based upon prejudice the court must give a higher sentence to the defendant.

The Disability Rights Commissions Attitudes and Awareness Survey (2003) revealed that 22% of disabled respondents had experienced hostility in public because of their impairment.

Apparently minor incidents of name calling and harassment can increase in severity and frequency unless intercepted at an early stage and the impact on the victim can be significant. Readers will be aware of the recent high profile deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francesca Hardwick who suffered years of intimidation by youths before their bodies were found in a burnt-out car in Leicestershire in October 2007.

A local example of this type of crime involved a disabled man who suffered from osteoporosis and curvature of the spine, was partially sighted and could only walk short distances. He was targeted by thugs for three years and continually tormented in public. He was pelted with eggs, bottles and coins and suffered a catalogue of name calling. At one stage he was too afraid to leave his home and went into a deep depression.

Eventually, in late 2006, two youths were successfully prosecuted at Cheltenham magistrates court. Both defendants admitted causing harassment, alarm and distress to the victim. In court, the Crown Prosecutor said: This was a particularly vulnerable member of the community who was targeted for no reason other than the gratification of these two young men. It was the most unnecessary and repeated incident.

The CPS works alongside the police, witness services and the courts, to make the court system more flexible and less intimidating. A number of measures have been introduced to help victims with disabilities feel more supported and better able to come and give evidence including requesting screens in court to shield a vulnerable or intimidated victim from the defendant or the giving of evidence via a remote TV link away from the court building itself.

Intermediaries are increasingly being used to help victims and witnesses with communication difficulties to give evidence in court. While a typical intermediary has a professional background such as speech and language therapy, in some cases a relative or care worker might fill that role.

The CPS also now deploys lawyers with specialist training to prosecute hate crimes and we can arrange for the prosecuting lawyer to meet the victim before the trial to discuss any issues or concerns.

As head of the Crown Prosecution Service in Gloucestershire, my job is to ensure that every person has equal access to justice and an equal right to be protected by the law. In 2009-10 the CPS obtained convictions in 11 of the 12 cases of disability hate crime that we prosecuted in Gloucestershire. I hope that with improved confidence in our ability to deliver justice there will be an increase in the reporting of these crimes to the police.

If you want to learn more about the CPS locally please look on the following link: http://www.cps.gov.uk/southwest