Monday, September 28, 2009

UK conference on hate crimes to focus on attacks against disabled people


Attacks on disabled people will be top of the agenda at an anti-hate crime conference this week.

Representatives from the county council, police and various support groups will be among those discussing the worrying trend, at Ashford International Hotel on Tuesday, September 29.

The conference comes just weeks after the Government published its Hate Crime Action Plan, which sets out a range of policies designed to further protect vulnerable citizens.

One of the guest speakers at the event will be the Ashford VIP (Visually Impaired Person) group founder Susan Aiken, who is registered blind and has been a victim of disability hate crime.

She said: “Once when I was walking along the street with my cane, an arm shot out in front of me and hit me in the face. At the time I was intimidated, frightened and angry, but there was nothing I could do...

“It’s almost like going back to World War Two when the Jews were persecuted by the Nazis for no reason other than their religion.

“People target us for no reason other than our disability.

“I think sometimes youths get a kick out of doing nasty things to disabled people, like it’s some sort of game. It’s a power thing.”

Two years ago there was national outrage when Hartlepool resident Christine Lakinski – a woman in her 50s with learning and physical disabilities – was urinated on, covered in shaving foam and filmed on a mobile telephone as she died after collapsing in the street.

Despite the circumstances of her death, police were unable to prove her assailant Anthony Anderson was motivated by hatred of her because of her disabilities.

Kent Chief Constable Mike Fuller and Kent County Council chief executive Peter Gilroy will be the main speakers at the conference, entitled Know your Rights, Right the Wrongs.

Mr Gilroy said: “It is an awful truth that disabled people are too often the victim of hate crime but have neither the means nor the access to report incidents.

“We want to make people aware that we have a zero tolerance policy in Kent to bullying and hate crimes of any nature.

“The conference will highlight for us all that in a civilised society we should treat everyone as we
would wish to be treated ourselves.”

As well as allowing disabled people to speak about their experiences, the gathering will also include speeches about the law surrounding disability hate crime and how it is investigated.

Police will also use the event to talk about how the force helps deaf and speech-impaired people access their services using text messages, and the advice they give to people with learning difficulties.

Mrs Aiken said: “It’s all about making links between disabled people, the police, councils and everybody else. It’s important to understand where hate crime begins and how it should end, because we’re all human beings at the end of the day."