Action needed to fight rising hate crimes says Gateshead MP

North East MP Ian Mearns highlighted the murder of a Sunderland man as he urged MPs to back new laws against prejudice and bullying

Simon Hobson Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead
Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead

People with learning difficulties are suffering “physical harm and mental torture” because of an upsurge in hate crimes, MPs have warned.

They called for new laws requiring police forces to register hate crimes against people with learning difficulties and disabilities including autism.

The proposed legislation was presented to the House of Commons by Ian Mearns, Labour MP for Gateshead, who warned: “There is growing concern that hate crimes against vulnerable groups is on the rise.”

The Bill was backed by North East MPs including Durham MP Pat Glass, North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon, Easington MP Grahame Morris and Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery. Mr Mearns told MPs about the death of Brent Martin, a man with learning difficulties who was murdered aged 23 after he was attacked by three men he thought were friends, on Sunderland’s Town End Farm estate.

William Hughes, then aged 22, Marcus Miller, 16, and Stephen Bonallie, 17, were convicted of murder at Newcastle Crown Court in 2008.

He said every MP would know somebody with a learning disability or difficulty, adding: “Yet how many know about the abuse and bullying they are subjected to on a regular basis?”

Recording hate crimes properly would be a first step towards reducing them, he said.

“What we need to see is offences treated in the same way as those motivated by racial or religious hatred.

“I think we can all agree that we want disabled people to be protected against criminals and bullies.”

Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson
Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson

Police also required better training, after a study by charity Mencap found that they were not always equipped to deal with hate crime targeted specifically at people with learning difficulties or disabilities.

Mencap’s report highlighted “the inability of some police officers to distinguish between learning disability hate crime and general anti social behaviour.” It was also essential to ensure that agencies shared information, because victims of crime did not always report the offence or realise that a crime had been committed.

“All too many victims with learning difficulties do not report to police in the first instance.”

Mr Mearns also highlighted the case of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick, who died in a blazing car after suffering nearly 10 years of abuse from yobs in Leicestershire.

He said: “It is important that we accept that this is a national problem and a national scandal.”

The MP added: “We need to ensure that people with learning difficulties and disabilities are protected from this unwanted harassment, physical harm and mental torture which can often make lives a misery and indeed lead to tragic consequences”.


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