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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

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Police reveal torment, abuse and cruelty towards Cumbria's disabled

A woman who was targeted because of her learning disability wept as she told how thugs made her life a misery.

Freda Harrington photo
Freda Harrington

Freda Harrington spoke out as Cumbrian police chiefs warned that hundreds of hate crimes against disabled people in the county are going unreported.

Last year officers investigated just 17 crimes where people with a disability were targeted.

But police believe the true scale of disability hate crime is hidden because many of those singled out have learned to put up with abuse.

Victims report routinely being shouted at, spat on and slapped in the street as they go about their business.

Freda, 60, and other regulars at the Heathlands Project near Carlisle for people with learning disabilities spoke of their experiences to highlight the human cost. All said their disability had led to them being singled out for abuse.

The eight-week police campaign against disability hate crime is also being backed by 22-year-old Tom Hall, a former pupil of Cockermouth School, who has studied at Lakes College at Lillyhall who still has memories of being “tormented” going right back to early childhood.

Freda loves life’s simple pleasures – chatting to friends, knitting and watching her favourite TV soaps.

But her eyes welled with tears as she recalled how she was targeted.

“Last year, in the summer, some boys were calling me bad names,” she said. “It happened again and again. It made me feel terrible. It was bad for my nerves and made me cry. It’s happened all my life.”

The abuse escalated when her tormentors hurled stones at Freda’s house windows.

Polite and softly spoken, Tom revealed that he suffered from discrimination and had done all his life.

More recently, he was subjected to gratuitous cruelty even as an adult, he said.

“There was a group of people in the sports area at the Lakes College and I was on my way to the assembly,” he said.

“One of them spotted me and just stood in front of me, blocking my way.” No matter what he did, the group refused to let him pass.

Launching the police and Crown Prosecution Service campaign on the issue, Assistant Chief Constable Jerry Graham said everybody deserved the right to a life free from the fear of crime, violence or being bullied.

He said: “Anyone who thinks that they have the right to intimidate or assault an innocent member of the public deserves to be prosecuted.”

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