Disability hate crime action to be investigated by EHRC
The UK's equality watchdog has announced an inquiry into whether public bodies are doing enough to stop disability hate crime.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wants people in England, Scotland and Wales to report their experiences of such crime.
It said it would act against any public body, including councils, police or schools, which it found to be at fault.
Such organisations are legally obliged to protect disabled people from abuse.
The inquiry was prompted by concern that a high number of these types of crimes were being carried out in Britain.
Mike Smith, lead commissioner for the inquiry, said: "Harassment in public places and behind closed doors is an everyday part of life for many disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.
"This harassment is intimidating at best and terrifying at worst, and the fear it creates can limit people's lives and opportunities.
High-profile cases involving disability hate crimes include that of 38-year-old Fiona Pilkington.
Ms Pilkington killed herself and her disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick, 18, in 2007 following years of intimidation by a gang of youths in their Leicestershire neighbourhood.
She had reported the abuse to police more than 30 times.
Mr Smith said: "Media reports of the appalling treatment of disabled people at the hands of their abusers are horrific reminders of what can ultimately happen when public bodies don't act or don't know what to do."
But official figures detailing hate crimes against disabled people have only recently begun to be recorded.
Using data taken from Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures, the commission revealed that at least one person appeared in court every working day charged with a crime against a disabled person. Almost half of these cases (45%) involved violence.
In its latest report on hate crime, the CPS said in the two years up until the end of March 2009, 576 people were prosecuted for disability hate crimes with 76% of the completed cases resulting in a conviction.
But the EHRC said evidence it had already gathered suggested that far more incidents of violence and hostility were either not reported or not dealt with properly by bodies including social services, social housing bodies or public transport groups.
It wants to discover how much support was given to victims of disability-related abuse, including name-calling, intimidation, violence and bullying.
In March, Johanna Perry from the CPS's equality and diversity unit said her organisation had to do more to help disabled victims of hate crime.
Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller urged people and organisations to submit evidence to the EHRC inquiry.
She said: "Bullying and harassment can all too often escalate into serious hate crimes against disabled people that we have all heard about.
"Harassment in any form is totally unacceptable. Everyone in society has the right to live life in safety and with security.
"For disabled people and for those people with long-term health conditions, safety and security is a right that can't be taken for granted."
Richard Evans from Wakefield told the BBC he had been harassed because of his disability and visible scarring.
He said: "For years I have suffered taunts and abuse - my worst experience has to be at work. If you report anything to your managers you are labelled a troublemaker and a problem and you are got rid of."
Gordon Osborne said he felt he had no option but to take drastic measures because of the abuse he suffered.
"I left the UK after too much name calling and stupid childish pranks.
"I love swimming but with having only one leg, I found it very hard to find anywhere I could swim without the name-calling and youngsters hiding my false leg away."
Those wishing to give evidence can contact the commission directly or attend one of its evidence-gathering events, due to be held across the country.
Hearings stemming from these submissions are due to be held from September 2010.