Disability hate crime reports hit record high in Bedfordshire last year

Disability charity Leonard Cheshire has called for tougher action

Hate crimes against disabled people in Bedfordshire reached a record high last year, new figures reveal.

Home Office data shows ​96 disability hate crimes were recorded by Bedfordshire Police in 2019-20.

That was up by 33 per cent compared to the previous year, when 72 incidents were reported, and the highest figure since comparable records began in 2011-12.

Disability hate crime reports hit record high in Bedfordshire last year

Reports can include assault, harassment and criminal damage against someone with a physical or learning disability, or mental health problem.

Across England and Wales, 8,500 disability hate crimes were recorded over the year, with more than half involving an element of violence.

Sergeant Carl Perri, from Bedfordshire Police’s hate crime team, said: “Reports of hate crimes are increasing year on year as more victims have the confidence to come forward.

“This is especially true in Bedfordshire, where we are performing well in comparison to other forces nationally to encourage victims of disability hate crime to report it to us.

“No one should ever have to feel afraid because of who they are, how they look or what they believe in.

“Our job is to investigate such incidents and provide victims with confidence and reassurance, which me and my team work tirelessly to do.”

Disability charity Leonard Cheshire has called for tougher action on the "abhorrent" crime, after joint analysis carried out with United Response found only around 2 per cent of disability hate incidents result in a charge or summons nationally.

Terry McCorry, a disability hate crime advocate for Leonard Cheshire, said: “This intolerable crime can seriously impact the lives of disabled people who are already marginalised by society.

"Social isolation can be a huge issue for disabled people and disability hate crime only serves to make people feel more reluctant to get out and about."

In Bedfordshire, a total of 1,244 hate crimes of any type were recorded by officers in the year to March – up 27 per cent on 2018-19.

Disability-related incidents accounted for 8 per cent of those, while the majority (77 per cent) were racially motivated.

Nationally, police recorded 105,090 hate crimes in the last year – a record high, and an 8 per cent rise on the previous year's figures.

The Home Office said the increase can be put down to improvements in recording and awareness of hate crime, but added genuine rises after events such as the EU referendum in 2016 and terror attacks the following year have also contributed.

The latest statistics come amid National Hate Crime Awareness Week, a national initiative aimed at increasing recognition of the crime and supporting those who are victims of hate.

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, hate crime lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said it is still concerning to see that people are being targeted for who they are.

“Over recent years police have worked hard to improve our response to hate crime, including better recording of offences and more training for officers," he added.

“Everyone has the right to live their lives without fear of being attacked, either physically or verbally. Police take all reports of threats and abuse seriously and we will work to bring perpetrators to justice."

The Home Office said those who commit “hateful attacks should feel the full force of the law”.