No crime to be different

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Hate crime takes many forms for those who dare – or can’t help – being different.

From name calling to outright assaults, it occurs in daily life for many by dint of colour, creed, clothes, appearance, abilities or disability, gender, background or sexual preference.

And while Blackpool is singled out in a national report this week for best practice to curb hate crime – the system is failing some.

For one 17-year-old local boy, who will appear in a BBC documentary, fear starts at the threshold of his school, where he claims to have been bullied, and even beaten up, since others learned he was gay.

Campaigners were told yobs took a blind man’s white stick off him, saying it would be returned if he gave them money.

“For some time he was afraid to go out,” says Stephen Brookes, who has won an MBE for his work to curb disability discrimination.

It flies in the face of the resort’s big hearted, all embracing, fully inclusive image, but Mr Brookes points out Blackpool still blazes the trail for other towns and cities.

The Blackpool “model” was highlighted as the way forward by the influential Equality and Human Rights Commission in its Hidden In Plain Sight report this week.

Mr Brookes adds: “It’s seen as best practice by statutory and voluntary sector staff around the country. Police, CPS staff, local authority and specialist organisations work well together.”

He was among local representatives, including Bispham High deputy head teacher John Topping, for the report’s London launch, and is back in London today, as a key adviser to an all-party Parliamentary committee processing strategies for a more inclusive society.

His brief extends to any form of hate crime – but even police chiefs admit disability hate crime is under reported.

He co-ordinates the national 6,500-strong disability hate crime network, is on the Crown Prosecution Service community forum and hate crime panel, is a member of the TUC disability committee, and a disability and equality consultant.

It didn’t stop two schoolgirls begrudging giving him a seat when he boarded a bus in Blackpool.

In recovery from stroke, Mr Brookes asked one of the girls to let him use one of the spaces set aside for the less able bodied.

An adult male ticked her off for declaring she had better “let the cripple sit down”. A woman intervened, saying the girl had paid for her seat and Mr Brookes hadn’t. He got off at the next stop to restore order. “A heated debate about me, involving 12 people who didn’t know me, was raging. If I’d stayed I’d have got angry.”

Transport chiefs studied the incident and retrained the driver. “It was his duty to intervene,” says Mr Brookes.

Schools are fighting for a better society. Collegiate High School, Blackpool, this summer launched a Hate Hurts course.

Today’s all-party Parliamentary report looks at the crucial role of schools in curbing hate crime. Bispham High deputy head Mr Topping explains: “It is young people that will take this report to the next stage. They understand certain language and words are unfair, cruel and illegal and should never to be uttered.

“If education officers, professional associations, elected members, parent/carers and students pull together, Blackpool will be seen as championing the way forward to rid our communities of this hate crime.”