Disabled children hate crime reports increasing

By Patrick Kiteley and Ben Robinson
5 live Investigates

Image source, Robert Melen

Reported hate crimes against disabled children are rising, a BBC investigation has discovered.

Figures from police forces across the UK show there were 450 incidents reported last year, up from 181 in 2014-15, 5 live Investigates found.

Families with disabled children described being targeted online and verbally abused in the street.

The Home Office said the rise was due to better reporting and more victims willing to come forward.

'They wished she was dead'

Bethan Germon's 23-month-old daughter Lydia has hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, which causes her head to swell.

It means at one point Lydia's head was double its natural size. She also has cerebral palsy and is fed through a tube.

"You see a really ugly side of people online to the point where they say they wish she was dead or why don't we kill her," Bethan said.

"The online commenting has easily been the worst and my husband has actually made sure that I come offline for a couple of days when things have been said.

"He really does try to protect me as much as he can."

The 29-year-old from Swansea said that while the family was most regularly targeted through social media, abuse was also doled out in the street.

"Some of my friends have had the word cabbage used against their children.

"This isn't unusual for us."

Image source, Germon
Image caption,
Bethan Germon on a trip out with daughters Lydia and Caitlin and husband David

A disability hate crime is defined as anything from online abuse to physical violence in which the victim was targeted because of their disability.

5 live Investigates sent Freedom of Information requests to all 45 police forces in the UK, to find out how often these incidents were happening, and 29 of them provided full responses.

Overall the number of disability hate crimes increased by 101%, from 1,531 in 2014-15, to 3,079 in 2016-17.

But the crimes against children increased at an even greater rate.

The incidents reported to police range from verbal and online abuse to arson and even violent, physical attacks.

Prosecutions rising

Amanda Batten of the Disabled Children's Partnership said the findings echo a new survey it carried out of nearly 2,700 parents of disabled children which revealed hate crime and abuse was commonplace.

"Families often feel like they can't go into busy public spaces or post images onto social media for fear of being publicly shamed or having to be submitted to people telling them that their child must lack quality of life because of their disability.

"The idea that so many parents and children with a disability are facing such a lack of support and outright abuse from the general public is truly heart breaking."

The Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales has seen year on year rises in prosecutions and convictions for disability hate crime.

A Home Office spokesman said: "All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable and the UK has some of the strongest laws in the world to tackle it.

"Our hate crime action plan has improved the response of law enforcement and the criminal justice system to these horrendous attacks.

"We are still concerned that disability hate crime is significantly under-reported by victims, and that is why the government is working with community groups to raise awareness of how to report it amongst, disabled people, their carers and families."

5 live Investigates: Hate Crimes against Disabled Children is broadcast on Sunday 15 October at 11:00 BST. If you missed it you can catch up on the iPlayer.

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