Hate crime: Support calls for people with learning disabilities

Jonathan Richards Jonathan Richards was the victim of hate crime and had to leave his home town

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More action is needed to protect people with a learning disability who are victims of hate crime and ensure they can get justice, charities say.

Mencap Cymru said nine out of 10 people with a learning disability have been a victim of hate crime and bullying.

But the number of people who report these crimes is far lower, it added.

Mencap and All Wales People First, which supports people with a learning disability, are calling for police to offer more support to victims.

They also want the Crown Prosecution Service in Wales to improve conviction rates.

Mencap Cymru said people with learning disabilities often do not report a crime and think they won't get taken seriously.

There may be a confidence issue or that people "sadly feel that this is something they just have to put up with as a disabled person," said a spokesman.

A victim's fear and anger

Jonathan Richards, from Carmarthen, who has a learning disability, said the hate crime he experienced forced him to leave his home town of Aberystwyth.

The 39-year-old said he had faced months of abuse from a man in his neighbourhood who had called him names and also put excrement and urinated through his letter box.

It culminated with him being assaulted by the same man at Aberystwyth train station in 2010, where he received "just cuts and bruises but it really affected me mentally".

"I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy," he said.

"I felt very very vulnerable, very very scared, because I couldn't understand why.

"This event made me upset, angry and full of fear.

"I still feel shaken every time I go back to Aberystwyth.

"Whenever someone targets a vulnerable person, no matter what their vulnerability is, they should be punished more severely.

"People who are vulnerable should not have to go through their lives feeling more frightened than anyone else."

Dyfed-Powys Police responded: "The neighbourhood policing team in Aberystwyth increased patrols and visited and liaised with the victim on a regular basis last year following reports of anti-social behaviour."

Its spokesman said hate crimes can range from harassment and abuse to assault and theft, with many committed by people who befriend the person with a learning disability.

The two charities are holding a forum on Thursday - during Learning Disability Week - where people with a learning disability can talk to professionals and politicians.

Their thoughts will feed into the Welsh government's forthcoming hate crime framework, which aims to counter the problem in Wales.

Jonathan Richards from Carmarthen, who has a learning disability, said awareness of the issue was slowly improving but added: "There's still a lot of improvement to be done."

The 39-year-old experienced months of abuse before he was assaulted but said he did not get treated seriously by officers when he reported the incidents at his local police station.

The incident eventually went to court but the case fell through.

"It's important that police officers take people with a learning disability seriously and listen to them," said Mr Richards, who is currently furthering his education in an adult education scheme.

"I also think that proper penalties should be given for hate crimes."

He added that Dyfed Powys Police were working to help people with a learning disability in Wales and recently launched an initiative called the Pegasus scheme, which gives vulnerable people a password to quote if they need to report an incident to ensure they are taken seriously.

"I'd like to see something similar across Wales," he added.

Community groups

Supt Dave Johnson, who has responsibility for hate crime for Gwent Police, said it was "widely acknowledged that hate crime is under reported and increasing reports of hate crime is a priority".

"We have worked hard to improve accessibility to report crimes and to raise awareness of these types of crimes and the help and support available to vulnerable victims," he said.

"All officers are given mandatory training to increase their awareness in identifying and investigating these crimes and the needs of vulnerable victims.

"Over the past couple of years Gwent Police has worked with community groups, such as People First, in improving the identification and recording of hate crimes committed against members of their groups: 31 third party reporting centres are now in place across Gwent which enables victims to report crimes in an environment they are comfortable in."

The three other Welsh police forces have been asked to comment.

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