The Pilkingtons, Disability Hate Crime and Responses


Independent Police Complaints Commission

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Yesterday, the Independent Police Complaints Commission published it’s report into the case of Fiona and Francecca Pilkington which I wrote about first in September 2009.

The Guardian has an article which highlights some of the main points but to sum up, Fiona and her daughter, Francecca, who was 18 but had severe learning disabilities were being abused and targeted in their local community.  In 2007, Fiona killed herself and Francecca and this was seen as a response to the desperate situation that she found herself in with her family being constantly targeted and bullied in her local community. Fiona contacted the police on multiple occasions between 2004-2007  regarding anti-social behaviour and reading the report, it seems to show that as well as her and her daughter being targeted, her son was also subject to relentless abuse and bullying by an ‘identified group of youths’.

Reading through the report it is possible to note the range of persistent targeting, not just of the Pilkingtons, it seems,  but of others in the local area by the same ‘identified group of youths’ and the scope of the report from the IPCC was to determine why no substantial action was taken to protect and support the Pilkingtons.

In some of the background information in the report, the situation is described as being one where Fiona lived with her son and her daughter – as well as a daughter who had profound learning disabilities, her son (who is not named) had special educational needs. Fiona’s mother had moved into the home to help her out and it is reported that Francecca was also known to social services and was allocated within a ‘transitions’ team as she moved from children’s services to adults services.

It is noted that Fiona was finding it increasingly difficult to manage Francecca’s behaviours as well as being targeted by the ‘identified group of youths’. These were the key issues that drove her to the murder/suicide.

Reading through the details of each complaint made is a lesson in the lives some people have to live when they are targeted like this in the local community. Fiona’s son seems to have been suffering particularly from relentless abuse and physical assaults and bullying at home and at school. Francecca is called names and obscene gestures are made towards her. There are frequent references to stones being thrown at the house and windows broken.

The report contains extracts from letters that Fiona wrote to her MP and to the Leicestershire Constabulary. She wrote

„she (Francecca) does sign language at her school … so the yobs stick their fingers up at her‟.

„I cannot give my children the freedom of going up the street to the shops as I cannot be sure they‟ll be safe. I do my shopping at the weekend so I don‟t have to use the streets available shops when children are at home after school, during holidays‟.

One of the policemen responded in the inquiry that

he was never aware of the stress or anxiety the issues Fiona Pilkington raised in her letter were causing her. He says whenever he did see her he never got the impression she was a manic depressive, she was always bubbly and chatty and always had a little giggle and none of her behaviour rang any alarm bells with him. PC „A‟ said he got the impression Fiona Pilkington was quite feisty and if there were people outside, she wouldn’t have had a problem opening the doors and telling them to “do one”.

No action was taken when the incidents continued

One incident which did warrant a harassment order occurred when  Fiona’s son (who is referred to as being 13 in 2004) was pushed into a  shed at knifepoint and was locked in for a ‘few hours’.  She also states that her son had been (at this point) bullied at school for 8 years and mentions that the school were taking no action.

The report highlights that the pattern of abuse had built up significantly by this point and enough for the police to have established a pattern. The report goes on to detail every incident and response taken and how it could have taken place in a different way. It’s a long report.

What seems to be clear is that this anti-social behaviour in every sense of the word and that lack of protection or response towards the Pilkington’s has been seen to be inadequate.

I have been involved in a few different cases over the years where harassment and targeting have been problems in communities – although never at the level which is described in this report.

It happens. It does tend to happen more in areas where there is poverty and high unemployment. It happens when people do not perceive others as ‘the same’ or they see ‘easy targets’. Yes, educational programmes can take place which can help us all to learn about non-discrimination but I’m sure the people who are most option to the softer approaches would be those less likely to discriminate in the first place.

One of the points that the report makes is that the linking of this consistent abuse was not classified as  a ‘hate crime’ and the police have specific procedures when dealing with ‘hate crime’ including a referral to a specific department/officer who would have been able to assist in coordination of an approach.  Disability discrimination may well be forgotten as the perceptions of ‘benefit scroungers’ spreads through the media and government press releases.

A couple of other  points I picked up on, apart from the procedural errors in the way the police dealt with the series of complaints. I do wonder where social services fit into this. Not that they would be held responsible but in terms of providing support to Fiona as a carer and in providing some kind of network or advocacy in dealing with the police or pushing the police towards action. I don’t know the set up but I know I have chased (not literally!) up reports about anti-social behaviour when they have been discussed with me both with the local community police officers and the local housing office.

The local housing office, that’s the other agency that seems to be absent although the bounds of this report are limited and they may very well have been working hard behind the scenes but all the ‘identified group of youths’ were tenants of social housing. Pilkington was an owner occupier. I know that anti-social behaviour can potentially put a tenancy at risk and you might think in the list that is compiled this could have been considered. Maybe it was and we don’t know about it – to be fair.

While the ‘No Secrets’ guidance is referenced in the report, it is discounted from being the appropriate procedure to take as Francecca would have only turned 18 in 2006 and the scope of the guidance ‘would not have been relevant’.

I am curious about this – the age, of course, is a relevant issue but it seems to fall within the bounds of things that I would have considered as Safeguarding in the past – and currently.

There does seem to need to be firstly a shoring up of multi-agency working.

These incidents were not recognised as  a ‘hate crime’ which they should have been as a main reason for the initial targeting was disability-related.

I worry about a lot of things when I read this report though. I worry about the limits that we are bound to regarding what support we sometimes can and can’t provide. Fiona tried to be a strong advocate for her children and her voice was increasingly taken from her when she was not provided with the assistance and support she should have received from statutory agencies. I worry about the amount of support (or rather the lack of it) that is offered to carers who can come under increasing stress and I don’t see this getting any better in the ‘new world’ as local authorities increasingly take an even more ‘hands off’ approach to provision of care.

I hope the police will be able to implement stronger responses to hate crimes in all senses but particularly pick up on disability related hate crime as a separate and specific offence but also, I hope that those in the government and who rumble on about ‘big society’ and ‘importance of community’ learn to understand that not all communities are as supportive and helpful as they might be in Cameron’s dreams.

Volunteering one day a year might ease the conscience of Cabinet members and make them feel good about themselves but walking a day or two in the lives of people like Fiona Pilkington and reading through the IPPC report might teach them a lot more about what needs to be done to create a better and more cohesive society. It isn’t just about volunteering. It’s about creating hope, work and dignity for both those who need support in the community but also those who might otherwise grow up in poverty and seek to target those who are different because their own life experiences are so poor.

Will any Cabinet Minister volunteer their one day to work with the youths living on Bardon Road in Barwell where the Pilkingtons lived? No? That’s where they should be going.  That’s where the work needs to be done. On Bardon Road and on Bardon Roads throughout the country.

We need to learn from the deaths of Fiona and Francecca. We need to make a better societies and better communities and that can’t be done by brushing things that are less palatable under the proverbial carpet.

4 thoughts on “The Pilkingtons, Disability Hate Crime and Responses

  1. Thank you for your excellent summary and highlighting a series of key issues. Your blog also opens up yet again the issue of ‘disability related’ hate crime and as someone who has raised this question for over eighteen years, I would still argue the police, CPS and social care providers offer inadequate means of addressing this form of hate crime.

    My experience as a sixty year old with cerebral palsy is that society still socially constructs the relationship between the realities associated with having an impairment and dominant ideologies around individualism and “normality” in ways which legitimate forms of ‘disability hate’. I believe the notion of “disability related” hides more than it reveals – non-disabled professional talk about ‘the social model of disability’ but their language and practice totally negates this. Disability hate crime is about people’s behaviour towards people with impairments; it can be about the impairment itself or, and here’s my point, how people with impairments have become constructed as “Other” – the law only deals with the former whilst in the eyes of many disabled people, helps reinforce the latter. There is a dangerous ambiguity within the notion “disability related” and disabled people are being let down as a consequence.

    • I certainly agree with that hate crime related to disability has been poorly handled by all supposedly responsible organisations. And there does definitely need to be a sharper societal shift.

  2. The current climate ie job losses and cut backs makes it a fertile ground for disability hate crimes and one that Maria Miller, the minister for disabilities and the government have done nothing to change by refusing to correct the gutter press in their reports of scroungers. Richard Hawkes, Scope’s chief executive, has said he believed the decline in tolerance for disabled people would see fewer taking up jobs and playing a full role in society.
    “Much of the welfare reform debate has focused on disabled people as benefit scroungers, and many disabled people feel this has led to the public being more sceptical about disability issues and more hostile to those who receive welfare support,” he said.
    “Ironically, this backdrop of negativity will only make it harder for the million disabled people who will be migrated off benefits to get a job. Unless disabled people can contribute to society, attitudes will continue to deteriorate and they risk being further excluded from society.”
    Ministers need to take the lead in rejecting the gutter press vilification which has been very distressing to claimants and engendered hostility towards disabled people. A survey has shown that since the government launched its benefits reform disabled people have faced growing public antagonism. A majority of those questioned reported that they experienced hostility, discrimination and physical attacks from strangers every week. More than a third claimed the position had worsened over the previous 12 months. In the survey, 37% said besides being abused in the streets, they were also being wrongly reported to the benefits fraud hotline and accosted when trying to use parking spaces reserved for disabled people. Ministers have been blamed for portraying disabled people as scroungers as they seek to cut the number of people on the disability benefits.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/14/disabled-face-increasing-hostility-strangers

    • Thanks Annie. I absolutely agree that the government (and previous govt) are exacerbating the situation and discrimination.

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