A judge has sparked concern after refusing to treat a three-year campaign of cruelty in which a disabled man was repeatedly beaten by relatives as a disability hate crime.
Preston Crown Court heard last week that Ghalib Hussain, who has epilepsy and learning difficulties, was beaten with a stick, had a jump-lead clamped to his nose, and was headbutted and whipped.
Hussain had come to Britain from Pakistan for an arranged marriage with the daughter of Nek Alam, 72, from Accrington.
But he was rejected by his new wife, and subjected to a three-year campaign of harassment and emotional abuse at the hands of Alam and his three sons, Zahir, 33, Zahoor, 32, and Janghir, 29.
All four pleaded guilty to putting Hussain in fear of violence by harassment, over a three-and-a-half year period between 2007 and 2010.
Nek, Zahir and Zahoor Alam were each jailed for 15 months, while Janghir Alam was jailed for 10 months.
The court had heard that one of the Alams described Hussain as “mentally sick”, another said he was “a burden”, while one of the sons said he had a “childish mind” and was referred to as “the clown or the mental case”.
But although Lancashire police and the Crown Prosecution Service both treated the offences against Hussain as disability hate crimes, the judge, Jonathan Gibson, refused to increase their sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for harsher sentences for hate crimes.
The judge told the court that he was “satisfied that this is a case where your frustrated reactions to his poor behaviour (as you saw it) overflowed and the poor behaviour was as a result of his disability”.
He added that Hussain had “displayed some difficult behaviour whilst in the care home [where he is now living] and, it seems to me, (and I sentence you on this basis) that he clearly displayed difficult behaviour whilst in your family home”.
A spokesman for the Judicial Office said the judge had told the court that he was sentencing the defendants “on the basis that they had not properly understood the nature of the victim’s disability and that they had reacted wrongly and criminally to what was, in their eyes, the victim’s difficult behaviour”.
But Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “It is going to frustrate us and the CPS when we are trying to drive the process of getting section 146 recognised if the courts are turning round and not applying what the CPS and the community feel is appropriate.
“I think it emphasises the fact that judges and magistrates do need to be brought into the real world in terms of training for the application of section 146.”
A CPS spokesman said: “The CPS explained the facts of the case to the court and suggested the court consider section 146… which sets out the basis for an increase in sentence where the circumstances of the offence show the offender demonstrated hostility towards the victim based on the victim’s disability or sexual orientation.
“We felt that was appropriate in these circumstances. The court did not agree with us that the specific circumstances of this offence fitted the criteria set out in section 146.”
He said the CPS was unable to comment further on the judge’s decision.
A Lancashire police spokeswoman said: “We did deal with it as a disability hate crime because that is how we perceived it to be.”
Asked how the force felt about the judge’s refusal to treat the offences as disability hate crimes, she said: “It would not be appropriate for us to be commenting any further.”