Taunted, abused and bullied - Disabled people in Norwich share their experiences of hate crime

Rheumatoid arthritis sufferer Marion Fallon. Photo: Staff

Rheumatoid arthritis sufferer Marion Fallon. Photo: Staff - Credit: Archant

Norfolk and Suffolk have the highest proportion of hate crimes linked to disabilities in the country. Nicky Barrell speaks to those facing the impact of the crimes.

Oliver Marshall who had to move out of Norwich to avoid hate crime. Photo: Staff

Oliver Marshall who had to move out of Norwich to avoid hate crime. Photo: Staff - Credit: Opening Doors

Fear of being physically or verbally attacked means Marion Fallon is reluctant to go out in Norwich at night.

The 57-year-old cannot walk without the aid of a walker or sticks due to the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

A former administrative officer for the Department of Work and Pensions, she was taunted several times a week by a neighbour and his friends.

'It started when I politely asked my neighbour to turn the music down,' she said. 'He would be verbally abusive and make gestures at me through the window. He started loitering with his friends outside the entrance to the block of flats and outside my door, trying to intimidate me.'

People have been urged to report hate crimes to the police. Picture: Archant Library

People have been urged to report hate crimes to the police. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Ian Burt

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When Ms Fallon phoned the police she was asked to go into Bethel Street police station where a police offer took down details of the incidents, but she didn't feel reassured that something could be done.

Eventually, she decided to move out of her flat, motivated to do so after a visit from a community police offer who was enquiring about some garden furniture which had been stolen.

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She believes Norwich is less safe for disabled people than it was a few years ago.

Martin Tolley, a former archaeologist from Ipswich, is not surprised by the statistics – he has been sworn and spat at as well as pushed and shoved while in a wheelchair.

Equal Lives at Framingham Pigot. Photo: Bill Smith

Equal Lives at Framingham Pigot. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Bill Smith - Archant

He has ankylosing spondylitis, which causes inflammation of the spine, and is in constant agony.

'If you are a wheelchair user people don't give a monkeys whether they push or shove into you,' he said.

And be believes the portrayal of disabled people as scroungers exacerbates hate crimes.

New Home Office figures reveal that in 2017/18 Norfolk and Suffolk had the highest proportion of hate crimes linked to disabilities, with 378 disability-related hate crimes from a total of 1,156 (32.7pc) in Suffolk, and 409 of 1,278 (32pc) in Norfolk.

It comes as no surprise to Ben Reed of Equal Lives, a Norfolk-based charity which promotes disability rights.

Mr Reed said that crime against disabled people ranged from verbal abuse right up to cuckooing - where a person's property is used for storing drugs and even weapons.

'As an organisation we see a lot of discrimination against disabled people because perhaps it is not taken as seriously as some of the other types of discrimination such as racism and homophobia,' he said.

'I knew a gentleman with learning difficulties who received huge amount of abuse and bullying every time he used the bus. Teenagers would make up stories about him and say that they would report him to the police and he didn't feel he could do anything about it.

'I think it is incredibly important to report hate crime. This year Equal Lives managed the Disability Pride event, which was about showing that disabled people aren't just victims and that they can stand up for themselves.'

Now 38, Oliver Marshall, the vice-chair of Opening Doors, a charity run for people with learning disabilities, suffered brain damage as a young person.

He said he was forced to move away from Mile Cross after being called names and had stones thrown at him.

'I think hate crimes against disabled people have got worse in Norwich because they think no-one will do anything about it - if they call people names they won't get caught,' he said. 'But if you experience a hate crime you must report it to the police.'

And even though Ms Fallon no longer has to put up with abuse from her neighbour she still observes day to day hostility.

'I take a bit longer with my walker to get up the step onto the bus and you can sense the atmosphere. I feel that I should be strong enough to face it but it really does get to me.'

A Norfolk police spokesman said the number of hate crimes taking place was likely to be lower than was being reported.

The spokesman said: 'There are a number of crimes recorded on our systems where the disability keyword has been attached because the victim was disabled but the motivation of the crime was not hate related.

'Unfortunately the only way to distinguish which of these offences were hate motivated would be to go into each record. When responding to requests for disability motivated hate crimes we decided to provide details of all crimes with the keyword attached.

'It is therefore likely that the actual number of hate crimes recorded in Norfolk and Suffolk are lower than we are currently reporting.

'Recognising this issue, we recently changed the keyword system which has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of crimes which are defined as being motivated by disability hate.'

A Suffolk police spokesman said: 'We work hard to raise awareness of what a hate crime is, meaning we now receive more reports. We want victims to be confident in coming forward, and we regularly review our overall response to hate crime, to continue to improve our work with communities.

'Full recognition is given to the fact that individual incidents, which may appear minor in nature to some, are far more serious when part of a pattern of behaviour directed at members of a minority group.

'We would urge anyone experiencing hate crime to give details to the police or to any third party reporting agencies.

'Each hate crime that is not reported is a missed opportunity to support the victim. It is also a missed opportunity to bring a perpetrator to justice, prevent future re-offending, improve local responses through intelligence on patterns of crime and inspire victims' confidence.'

The Home Office data reports the proportion of hate crimes against different demographics of people vary widely across police forces, with a total of 94,098 hate crimes recorded by police in that period.

The number of motivations does not equate to the total number of hate crimes, with some crimes being linked to more than one motivation.

A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: 'Our message is clear – to target hate at a person because of their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender is a crime that can have a devastating impact upon individuals and communities.

You can report hate crime directly to the police online selecting using our crime reporting form, which can be found here.

Alternatively, you can report Hate Crime online anonymously via True Vision.

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