Disabled plane passenger ‘trolled’ for having to drag herself to toilet as hate crime stats soar in Manchester

Charities are calling for action as they reckon hate crimes against disabled people are getting worse.

Greater Manchester has seen a significant increase in the number of disability hate crimes reported to police, shock figures show.

Research by two leading disability charities found there was an 81.1% rise in the number of such incidents being lodged with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in 2021-22 compared to the previous year.

More than one in 10 disability hate crime reports in England and Wales in the last financial year were in the city-region, and hundreds of them involved disabled people telling police they had faced violence.

Charities have spoken about the impact hate crimes have on disabled people’s lives and said that while they would like to think the figures reflect an increased willingness to report such incidents to the police problems such as abuse also seem to be getting worse.

One even revealed how a disabled passenger was a target for online abuse after she had to drag herself to a toilet on board when no wheelchair was available.

What does the data show for Greater Manchester?

Disability charities United Response and Leonard Cheshire are sharing the results of Freedom of Information (FOI) enquiries to police forces across England and Wales.

The results show GMP received 1,335 reports of disability hate crimes in 2021-22.

This was an 81.1% increase on the 737 received in 2020-21.

There was a similar spike in reports of disability hate crimes involving violence in the city-region, which went up from 384 in 2020-21 to 696 in 2021-22.

The GMP figures represented the biggest percentage rise of any police force in the North West.

And the force accounted for a shocking 11.9% of all disability hate crimes reported to police anywhere in England and Wales in 2021-22.

What does the data show nationally and what have the national charities said?

The data shows that more than 11,000 disability hate crimes were reported to police in England and Wales between April 2021 and March 2022, a 25% increase on the previous year.

At the same time the charities have revealed that just 1% of these incidents resulted in a referral from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or a charge.

United Response found investigations most commonly ended due to evidential difficulties and victims withdrawing support for the investigation despite having a named suspect.

The charities say barriers to action against disability hate crimes include a lack of appropriate support for disabled victims, leading to people feeling overwhelmed or lacking confidence in the criminal justice process, and variations in disability and diversity training for police officers.

Less than two per cent of disability hate crimes reported in England and Wales last year resulted in criminal charges. Picture: Adobe Stock Images

In a joint statement United Response and Leonard Cheshire said: “Record levels of reports coupled with a distinct lack of justice paint a worrying picture that these crimes are not being taken seriously enough.

“We’ve heard from many disabled people about the traumatic consequences of their awful experiences and the damage on their lives. The prevalence of disability hate crime is shocking and every report has a real person and real story behind it.

“Some forces are proactively trying to improve their responses and others can learn from this. But there needs to be widespread investment in training among officers so that support for victims improves and they get the justice they deserve.

“Government funding and action is vital so police have the resources they need to reduce prejudice and hate in our communities.”

What has been said in Greater Manchester about this data?

Alex Winstanley, the co-founder or managing director of Happy Smiles Training which provides disability hate crime awareness training, saying it would be good to think the increase in reported crimes reflected disabled people being more confident about going to the police.

However, he said that he did not think such an optimistic view was entirely justified.

Happy Smiles founder Alex Winstanley (second right) with Haydn Smith, Kurt Watson and Ellie Greenawary, members of Happy Smiles CIC

He said: “These figures should be shocking, but from the responses we get when we deliver training I am not surprised they have gone up again.

“I would like to say the increase is because disabled people are becoming more confident in reporting and people are more aware of what disability hate crime is and what it entails.

“However, it is getting worse. I was talking to a woman who went viral after she had to drag herself to the toilet on a plane because it didn’t have a chair for wheelchair users, and the amount of trolling she got was unbelievable.

“People are too ready to challenge difference and diversity instead of celebrating it. When we do training a lot of people don’t even realise that it’s a hate crime when people are verbally abusive towards someone because of their disability.

“The only thing we can do is continue to build communities around us of positive people and behaviours, and hopefully people will learn from that.

“I still think that of all the protected characteristics disability is at the bottom of the pile, which is what disabled people are saying around the country.”

GMP has been approached for comment.