Why we need strong laws

I have just received a press release from the Crown Prosecution Service in Greater Manchester with the headline: “Woman sentenced for disability hate crime attack”.

This is a case which Changing Faces has been involved with because people with disfigurements are far too often exposed to public ridicule – and this was a bad case. It is excellent news to see that the Judge agreed to the Prosecutor’s case. I salute Chantelle Richardson for taking the case all the way and congratulate her with the successful result.

It will be very interesting to see the outcome of the formal enquiry into disability-related harassment by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and how this relates to hate crime which is a criminal offence and should be reported to the police.

For the sake of clarity, people with disfigurements in Britain are protected from harassment and unfair treatment by the Equality Act which also obliges public bodies to have all the necessary systems in place to prevent it happening. The safety and security of disabled people is a basic human right.

I am quoting the Press Release in full including the helpful ‘Notes to Editors’:

“Prosecutors today successfully applied for an increase in sentence for a woman who attacked another female in an Oldham pub simply because she has a facial disfigurement.

Rachel Rooney, 31, of Capesthorne Drive, Oldham, taunted Chantelle Richardson – 22 at the time – about her appearance whilst in The Weavers Arms in Shaw on 4 September last year, before then punching her, causing her nose to haemorrhage.

Chantelle has a condition called Arteriovenous Malformation from birth which results in irregular connection of high-pressure arteries and low-pressure veins in the nose. Trauma to the nose could lead to bleeding, which in turn can cause severe or fatal strokes and, in Chantelle’s case, even death.

Speaking following the sentence, Rebecca Radcliffe, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyer, said: “This was a completely unprovoked attack on a young woman who was simply minding her own business and enjoying the company of her friends.

“In our view, Rooney’s actions were clearly motivated by hostility towards Chantelle’s disability. As such, when this case was reviewed, it was identified as a disability hate crime: namely a crime perceived to be motivated by, or where there was a demonstration of, hostility based on a person’s disability.

“Under Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the CPS asked that the court consider an increase in sentence for Rooney, who admitted a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm at an earlier hearing. The Judge decided that Section 146 did apply and jailed Rooney for eight months.”

Ms Radcliffe added: “No-one should be subject to the violence and verbal abuse that Chantelle experienced. The CPS has clear policies on dealing with disability hate crime and will continue to work with our partners in the criminal justice system to make it clear that they have no place in our society.”

NOTES TO EDITORS:
There is no legal definition of a disability hate crime. However, when prosecuting cases of disability hate crime, and to help us apply CPS policy on dealing with such cases, we adopt the following definition:

“Any criminal offence, which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s disability or perceived disability.”

Safety and security and the right to live free from fear and harassment are basic human rights. Our policy is to prosecute disability hate crime fairly, firmly and robustly.

¹For more information on Disability Hate Crime and Section 146. please visit:
http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/prosecution/disability.html

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