The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is reviewing a barrister’s decision not to call for stricter sentences for three people who took part in a “degrading” hate crime attack on a disabled man.
The man, who has learning difficulties, was taped to a lamppost in Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside, Greater Manchester, by three “friends” and covered with food, paint and nail varnish.
One of the three wrote the word “terrorised” on his leg, while other drawings and words were scrawled on his body, including an obscene image on his back.
By the time he was cut free by one of the trio, he was unconscious, apparently because of the amount of alcohol he had drunk, and fell heavily to the ground. He was taken to hospital by ambulance.
Police believe a mob of at least a dozen people took part in the attack last August, with one taking pictures of him on a mobile phone, although only three people were arrested.
Maggie Bowden, 38, of Whiteacre Road, Ashton; Rebecca Willis, 24, of Sheard Avenue, Ashton; and Anthony Connolly, 25, of Broadoak Road, Ashton, all pleaded guilty to assault, but escaped with suspended prison sentences after appearing at Manchester Crown Court.
CPS had treated the “truly degrading attack” as a disability hate crime, but the prosecuting barrister failed to ask the judge to impose a stricter sentence under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for harsher sentences for hate crimes.
Without a request for a sentencing “uplift”, the judge suspended the prison sentences imposed on the trio, as Bowden and Willis both have young children, while he said Connolly had played a less significant role in the attack. Each of them will also have to pay £300 compensation to the victim.
A CPS spokeswoman said: “We did everything we should have done, apart from the very last thing, which was to ask the judge to consider the sentence uplift. We will be writing to the advocate formally to find out why this was not done.”
Anne Novis, a leading disabled hate crime campaigner and a member of the Ministry of Justice’s hate crime advisory group, said: “Lack of appropriate sentencing gives the message that disabled people’s lives are worth less than others who experience hate crime.
“Yet again we are let down by the very people who should be prosecuting our cases appropriately and using all the measures of law we have. Yet again the message goes out that hostility towards disabled people does not equal tough sentences, just leniency.”
Beverley Smith, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, added: “The sentencing here gives out a strong message that, in some cases, disability hate crime is OK. It is not OK.
“Light sentencing does nothing to increase public confidence in reporting [disability hate crime]; indeed it is very damaging. I strongly believe that a review of this sentence needs to be undertaken urgently.”
But there have also been concerns raised about the role of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), which denied claims made in court that it twice refused to respond to calls from the public to help the man.
They said the first call they received complained about noise and drunken behaviour and said a man had been tied to a lamppost, while they have been unable to trace a second – 999 – call.
Assistant chief constable Garry Shewan said the force’s professional standards branch had launched an inquiry into how it responded, while GMP had also referred its handling of the crime to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
Shewan said the incident was “thoroughly investigated as a disability hate crime”.
He added: “This man was subjected to a vile and horrendous assault and although the people responsible have been brought to justice, we are very sorry he was subjected to such abuse and are looking into whether we could have acted sooner.”
The case has again placed a spotlight on Greater Manchester Police’s record in dealing with serious disability-related incidents.
In March 2011, the IPCC heavily criticised GMP for its “total failure” to treat the “years of torment” experienced by David Askew at the hands of local youths as disability hate crime.
Askew, who had learning difficulties, collapsed and died from “natural causes” in March 2010 soon after police received reports that youths had again been harassing him outside his home in Hattersley, also in the borough of Tameside, on the edge of Manchester.
Last November, the force was criticised by the IPCC for ignoring two phone calls expressing serious concerns about the health of a disabled man, Philip Dorsett, who was later found dead.
There were also questions raised in 2010 about whether GMP failed to investigate a brutal and sustained attack by three teenagers on a young man with Asperger’s syndrome as a potential disability hate crime. The attack lasted three days.