Disability hate crime is a phenomenon which appears to be becoming increasingly prevalent, with the perpetrators routinely (and it must be said with some justification) referred to in the media as lowlife scum. But, I wonder, is there not a link between examples of attacks on disabled people and the continuous drip-feed of tabloid sensationalism about benefit fakers who, if we are to believe the Express, Telegraph, Sun and Mail, as well as a depressingly long list of local newspapers and right wing internet sites, are living the high life at the expense of hard-working taxpayers?
Just as it was a disorientating experience to read the Mail’s famous front page banner headline naming Gary Dobson, David Norris and the Acourt brothers as the racist murderers of Stephen Lawrence, as if the Mail itself had played no part in creating an atmosphere of hostility towards ethnic minorities, so it was to see their reporting of the suicides of Fiona Pilkington and death of her daughter Francesca Hardwick in 2007, after the family had been hounded and tormented by “feral” teenagers in Barwell, Leicestershire.
The Mail was quick to condemn the police and local council but made no mention of the media’s own part in helping to foment the attitude that led the youths to make the family’s life so bad that Mrs Pilkington saw no other way of escape for herself or her daughter. And the perpetrators of the abuse were hardly feral. None of them were living wild in the woods but slept at home with their families in an unremarkable small Midlands town where, it is just possible, their daily diet of news was provided by the trashy tabloids who liven up slow days, when there is no X Factor or I’m A Celebrity to distract them, by inviting their readers to take part in a ten-minute hate binge against benefit claimants.
Just like the mysterious celebs who fill the front pages, you might be familiar with none, or some or all of the names below:
Sean Miles, Rikki Judkins, Kevin Davies, Steve Hoskin, Raymond Atherton, Colin Greenwood, Brent Martin, Michael Gilbert, Shaun Rossington and Gemma Hayter are all English victims of murder by gangs or groups of people, and whose deaths have been reported within the last five years. Recently they were joined by Roy Bush, whose killers, from Scunthorpe, were sentenced last week after they had battered him to death and stole his artificial leg, which they buried in a wood. The others all had learning difficulties and/or mental health problems and died, respectively, in Oxford, Lancaster, the Forest of Dean, St Austell, Warrington, Sheffield, Sunderland, Luton, Lincoln and Rugby. Two of them drowned after being thrown into rivers and another two died on or by railway lines. Kevin Davies and Michael Gilbert had been kept as prisoners in the homes or outbuildings of their tormentors. All were tortured and/or humiliated, sometimes for an hour or so, but some for years, before they died.
Rikki Judkins, from Coventry, accidentally bought the wrong return bus ticket and so was left to fend for himself overnight in a strange town. One might have thought that, coming across a lonely and vulnerable man on his own, with nowhere to spend the night but the bus station, someone in the apparently pleasant city of Lancaster might have taken pity on him rather than beating him to death for, it seems, the sheer enjoyment of doing so.
Now I don’t wish to use these tragic cases to make political capital but I do not believe that crimes like these happen in a vacuum, or just occur because England is suddenly populated by groups of psychopaths.
In Mansfield recently, a young man was beaten to death in the town centre by two attackers who came, respectively, from Lithuania and Turkey. The victim’s family subsequently felt the need to appeal to the people of the town to stop using their son’s name as an excuse to harass the local Polish community, since Poles had nothing to do with the crime. What this story illustrates is that, like the ‘Okies’ (from all over the American Midwest) in 1930s California, and the ‘P***s’ (from anywhere in Asia) anyone living here who hails from Eastern Europe is a Pole. Likewise, it seems, for the more easily led English citizen, someone who is disabled (especially if they have a less visible condition) is a ‘Scrounger’.
What the above named groups share is a disproportionate likelihood of being insulted, humiliated, marginalised and attacked. Is there a connection with the continual media stories about disability fakers? Let’s put it this way, these tales are hardly likely to spread goodwill and tolerance, any more than the proprietors of the Sun or the Express intend them to. Lazy prejudice sells papers to lazy people, and the consequences help create a society in which the English Defence League, and its various spin-off fringe groups of yobs, use bullying tactics to scare people out of their wits in towns which have a larger than average ethnic population. The long-established Polish community in England finds itself, for the first time, under attack from racists; and disabled people, incapable of defending themselves, have to be careful about who they get involved with for fear that they might be exploited, victimised or, in extreme but nonetheless an increasing number of cases, murdered.
So can we lay at least a part of the blame at the door of the right wing press? Yes. I believe we certainly can.Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Felix McHugh