Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Action to Put Hate Crimes in Spotlight; OPINION

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Action to Put Hate Crimes in Spotlight; OPINION

Article excerpt

Byline: Ian Mearns

THIS week, I was proud to bring in a Bill in the Commons to require police forces to register hate crimes against people with learning difficulties and disabilities, including autism. The Bill also enjoyed crossparty support as well as support from Ricky Gervais, Katie Price band Melanie Sykes.

People with learning diffi-culties and disabilities are regularly abused and subjected to hate crime and, frustratingly, the police are unable to adequately catalogue these hate crimes. Earlier this year, I tabled a Commons motion which was backed by over 100 MPs across the political spectrum, congratulating Kevin Healey, an Ambassador for the National Autistic Society, who has been helping to raise awareness of hate crimes such as cyber-bullying, trolling, stalking and physical bullying against those suffering with autism.

I cited the findings of a National Autistic Society survey that revealed that most respondents experienced verbal abuse, while half had been physically assaulted and a quarter had suffered cyber-bullying.

Social attitudes change frequently and fast. Just think of the sort of things many used to say about women, gays and black people.

Most people just wouldn't dream of doing so now. Look at how racism has been largely stamped out at football matches. The same can be the case with those with learning difficulties. After all, we usually know someone with learning diffi-culties personally or through friends and families.

I first encountered this problem when it was repeatedly brought to my attention when I chaired the Valuing People Now Partnership Board for the North East, where service user groups regularly prioritised reporting and solutions to hate crime To appreciate the seriousness of bullying and hate crime, we need only look at the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington, who took her own life and that of her daughter, Francesca in 2007, after a decade of harassment by bullies. Their deaths were largely caused by missed opportunities by the police to record information, act on that information and identify the family as vulnerable and in need of care and support.

In the North East, a few years back Brent Martin, a young man with learning disabilities, was beaten to death by three people he took to be friends. …

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