Putting an end to hate crime threat

A CAMPAIGN to stamp out hate crime towards vulnerable North Somerset residents has been launched across the district.

The police, NHS bodies, council and many other agencies are getting behind Mencap, a national charity which works on behalf of families and people with a learning disability.

The organisation is leading a three-year campaign, called Stand By Me, which aims to improve support for people with learning difficulties when they are victims of crime, particularly hate crimes.

It was initiated during Learning Disabilities Week, when information stands were set up across the region to educate the public.

One young woman with Down’s syndrome said: “I don’t like going out much at night because people make fun of me.

“They make faces and call me horrible names. This makes me feel frightened and upset.

“How would people feel if they were treated the way I’m treated? It’s not my fault I have Down’s syndrome.”

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A petition is currently circulating businesses in North Somerset to encourage support and can also be found at Clevedon’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Old Street.

Mencap’s head of campaigns and policy co-ordinator, David Congton, said: “Recently, three men who tortured a 17-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome walked away with a sentence of just 80 hours community service.

“And in another high profile case, Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her disabled daughter after the police failed to stop the abuse they were subjected to by local youths.”

As part of the campaign a form has now been developed for people to fill out when they have been victims of hate crime - this can be found at www.LD4U.org.uk

Michelle Burnett, general manager of North Somerset People First, an independent organisation which is part-funded by the council, said: “The campaign helps support people with learning difficulties to speak up for themselves and be aware of their rights.

“People accept bullying and hate crime as they can experience this routinely as part of their life.

“They need help and support to understand that it’s wrong and they don’t need to tolerate it.

“If people report it the police will deal with it as a crime and people can also report it to someone who supports them, like a social worker or our organisation. They can also fill out an anonymous form as it is really important that people are helped to speak out when they are victims.”

Michelle said some business owners can be dismissive of people with learning difficulties and some have even been asked to leave the premises as they do not ‘fit in’.

The Community Team for People with a Learning Disability and Avon and Somerset police also launched the Safe Haven scheme on June 24.

It is hoped many businesses will display a Safe Haven logo in their window, letting people know they can go in if they need help and support.

The idea is that people can find somewhere safe if something goes wrong, if they are lost or confused or in trouble, which will make them feel safe and more confident.

North Somerset Council’s planning and development manager, Alison Stone, said: “Hate crime can be dehumanising and we are here to campaign against this, to change people’s perceptions and to make a difference.

“It’s also about the general public changing their perceptions and being more thoughtful, helpful and understanding of people around them with learning disabilities.”

Alison also stressed it is important for the police and courts to take it seriously.

She added: “We are really pleased by the police’s response to this campaign in North Somerset and we are working in partnership with them to increase hate crime reporting.”

* People in Yatton gathered at the Strawberry Line Caf� to create awareness of Learning Disabilities Week.

Elaine Burden, from Mencap, arrived at the venue in Station Road to talk to the public about their understanding of hate crime.

Caf� director Natasha Pester said: “As an organisation which trains and employs adults with learning disabilities, we are aware that supporting people to lead normal lives, like going to work and going out and using public transport, sometimes exposes them to risk of abuse from people in the community who don’t understand them and want to bully them.

“We wanted to do what we could to get behind this important Mencap initiative and hope people will take the opportunity to come to the caf� to sign the petition and learn more.”