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Disability Hate Crime: The Tragic Case of Fiona Pilkington

Disability Hate Crime: The Tragic Case of Fiona Pilkington

Police in the UK face misconduct charges after an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report found that they had failed to properly help the family of Fiona Pilkington. In 2007, Pilkington killed herself and her severely disabled daughter, Francecca Hardwick, following years of chilling harassment by youths who threw stones, flour, bottles and other objects at their house, jumped in the front hedge, and sometimes just loitered around for hours shouting abusive language.

According to the Guardian, Pilkington contacted police — 33 times in ten years, 13 times in the year in which she took her life — and “discussed matters with two antisocial behaviour officers from her borough council, dealt with a series of social workers and even wrote to her MP.” But — even though police and council officials knew who are the main culprits were — the abuse continued, with Pilkington’s son, Anthony Pilkington, who has milder learning disabilities, also targeted.

In a diary she kept until the year of her death, Pilkington writes about teenagers and children as young as 10 years old keeping the family “under siege” in the house she had lived in for 15 years. One night she wrote about hearing shouts outside her living room window from 11:30pm into the early hours.

The IPCC report said that police had erred in not identifying the family as “vulnerable” and the abuse as hate crimes. Says the Guardian:

In October 2007, Pilkington, then 38, drove herself and her 18-year-old daughter, Francecca Hardwick, to a layby near her home in Barwell, near Hinckley. She also took the family’s pet rabbit to soothe Hardwick, who had severe learning disabilities and a mental age of about four. She then set the Austin Maestro on fire, killing them both.

An inquest two years later heard how the family had been kept virtual prisoners in their home ….. The jury ruled that failings by police contributed to the deaths, as did the failure of Leicestershire county council and Hinckley and Bosworth borough council to share information.

The report singles out the police’s failure to identify the abuse as hate crimes against individuals with disabilities and their caretakers:

The case prompted wider concern that many police forces were failing to properly identify hate crimes motivated by disability and thus treating them as low-priority antisocial behaviour, something disability campaigners say too often remains the case….

The IPCC concluded that one of Leicestershire police’s main failings was in not identifying the abuse as hate crime. The report found that the force had systems in place which should have recognised the scale of cumulative harassment faced by the family, but that these were not used properly. Officers failed to take note of Pilkington’s repeated assertions that her family was being specifically targeted for abuse.

The watchdog cited several incidents to which the police should have responded more robustly, including one in July 2004 when Anthony, then 13, was threatened with a knife by youths and locked in a shed. Police did not visit the family until four days later.

Says David Congdon, the head of MENCAP, a disability advocacy organization:

Mencap estimates that as many as nine out of ten people with a learning disability are verbally harassed or exposed to violence due to their disability. If similar cases are to be prevented from happening again, this report underlines that police must treat disability hate crime as seriously as racial, religious and homophobic crime.

In June, MENCAP will launch a three-year campaign against disability hate crimes, the Stand by Me campaign.

This tragic case sheds a harsh light on the bullying and verbal and physical abuse that students with disabilities too often suffer from and endure. Disability hate crimes are under-reported, says the Guardian. Individuals with disabilities are “still reluctant to go to the police, and when they do, they struggle to be taken seriously.”

No one has been charged of any crime in Pilkington’s death or arrested in regard to it. While the police officers involved face misconduct proceedings, they will not lose their jobs, says chief constable of Leicestershire police, Simon Cole. He also issued an “unreserved apology to the family.”

But I am afraid that is too little, and way, way too late.

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Image by blakeemrys.

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47 comments

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7:35AM PST on Jan 10, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

11:52PM PST on Jan 29, 2012

Tragic story, thank you.

12:16PM PDT on Jul 29, 2011

And where are the brave parents to these abusive and criminal children/young adults that harassed and innocent woman and her children? Do they actually love their kids or did they just plopped them out to get a welfare check? I say, bring criminal charges against the chlidren, their coward parents and the lazy cops/authoroties/social services that did absolutely nothing to stop the Pilkington family from suffering so much it ended in a tragedy!

10:31PM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

I am appalled beyond words that human beings can treat other humans in this degrading and cruel way. Isn't it funny that people nowadays believe that "religion" is responsible for some of the "worst" behavior in mankind, and yet back in the days when most folks did believe in God and tried to live out faith in their lives, people seldom treated one another like this in their own communities? Those responsible for terrorizing this woman and her family WILL be held responsible for their sins unless they sincerely repent of their actions. I feel sure that this woman and her daughter are receiving their reward for their suffering in Heaven.

3:40PM PDT on Jun 12, 2011

This is ridiculous. Our government and police forces are being degraded. Usually these days, it's either shoot first and ask questions later or ignore it, it's just a prank. This isn't the case with all officers but the majority needs to shape up and start acting responsibly.

9:17PM PDT on Jun 4, 2011

We also need independent police investgation in America. Internal investgation aka police investagting the police, are so out-dated.

6:51PM PDT on May 29, 2011

Wow...what does a clue look like?

4:16PM PDT on May 27, 2011

There a few good police officers but sadly they cannot make a difference when they are weighed down by their colleagues indifference,apathy and bad policing.The police would have done something if the lady had confronted them.

2:28PM PDT on May 26, 2011

But the archbishop of Canterbury had a lot to say about taking out a murderer...anything here,NO...thank you archbishop. .People like this just expendable. It is unfortunate she could not obtain a weapon...that way she could have gunned down 1/2 dozen of the perps...bet the police would have been able to take action at that time.

2:51AM PDT on May 26, 2011

This is horrendous! It's such a funny world. My children get in trouble in school for defending the ones being picked on.

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