Union activists have called on the government to set up a public inquiry into the way the police deal with disability hate crime.
Delegates to the TUC’s annual disability conference unanimously backed the motion, proposed by the University and College Union (UCU), which also called on the government to pressure the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to expand its inquiry into disability-related harassment.
The motion asked the TUC to write to the new home secretary, demanding a “public acknowledgement” that the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick were a “direct result of disability hate crimes”.
An inquest last year heard that Pilkington and her family were subjected to years of sustained harassment and abuse from a gang, much of it targeted at Francecca, who had learning difficulties.
Despite 33 calls to the police, the family’s complaints were not taken seriously and the harassment was never treated as potential disability hate crime.
An inquest jury concluded that the failures of the police and other public bodies contributed to Pilkington’s decision to kill herself and Francecca in 2007.
Sasha Callaghan, from the UCU, told the conference that she and colleagues had been “infuriated” by media references to the deaths being caused by “anti-social behaviour”.
She added: “If we have a public inquiry at least it will go some way to making sense of the terrible things that happened to them.”
She also criticised the inquiry set up by the EHRC. “The EHRC just talks about disability-related harassment. That’s not the reality. It’s hostility, it’s hatred, it’s fear…to talk just about harassment doesn’t go far enough.”
Stephen Brookes, chair of the disabled members’ council of the National Union of Journalists, told the conference that it was the most important motion they would consider.
He said: “It is about stopping something that has caused the deaths of 32 disabled people. Support it and act on it.”
Brookes said that some magistrates he meets at conferences do not even know about the extra sentencing powers they have to deal with disability hate crime offences.
He added: “This is not anti-social behaviour. It is hostility against disabled people.”