The latest of a series of horrific murders of disabled people has shown the urgent need for research into what motivates the men and women who commit such hate crimes, campaigners believe.
The call came after the publication of a serious case review into the murder of Gemma Hayter, a young disabled woman who was brutally beaten to death by five young people she considered her “friends”.
Many of the circumstances surrounding Hayter’s death are similar to those of other notorious hate crime murders in recent years.
Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and author of the book Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation of disability hate crime, highlighted several similarities.
Hayter was killed by a group of young men and women, who she thought were her “friends”.
She was also forced to drink urine. Several of the violent deaths Quarmby has studied have involved “dehumanising” the disabled person in some way using urine.
Quarmby said Hayter’s death showed other “clear hallmarks” of a disability hate crime, and particularly the kind of “mate crime” in which disabled people – often those with learning difficulties, like Hayter – are befriended and then groomed and exploited.
Quarmby said the case highlighted the urgent need for research into the kind of people who carry out disability hate crime, their motivation and “some kind of profile of what a disability hate crime looks like”.
This kind of “perpetrator analysis” was a key recommendation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into disability-related harassment, which reported in September and is currently out for consultation.
Quarmby believes such research will make it easier for police, prosecutors and judges to use section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for stricter sentences for disability hate crimes, although not presently for murders.
She said: “I think we have enough cases to profile what these cases look like, who is doing them and what the markers are.
“Without perpetrator analysis, the police will never move forward and each case will [continue to] be treated in isolation.”
Simon Cole, chief constable of Leicestershire police, and mental health and disability lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “Improving the way in which the police service recognises and responds to harassment and abuse of disabled people is a significant challenge facing policing and we can only be successful by working in partnership with disabled people and other public bodies.
“One of the seven areas the EHRC is looking at is how well we understand the motivations of those individuals who perpetrate crimes against disabled people and in our response to the EHRC we will be looking at how best we can take this forward, and this will include perpetrator analysis.”
He added: “I urge disabled people to continue to come forward and report crimes against them so that perpetrators can face the consequence of their actions in the courts.”