Many of our members will know our Regional Officer, Rod Landman, who has lead the charge against ‘Mate Crime’ for many years now, on behalf of ARC, through various projects and work with providers, people who access support, the Police, academic institutions and advocacy groups. His passion is to ensure it continues to be recognised, acknowledged as a real ongoing issue, and moreover, tackled.
We asked Rod to produce a summary of his recent appearance as Keynote Speaker at a conference at University of Sunderland and give us a round up of progress to date on this topic.
Shining a spotlight on Mate Crime, blog by Rod Landman, ARC Regional Officer
Last month I was proud to provide the keynote address at a major conference on mate crime attended by 200 people at University of Sunderland. The conference was addressed by Catherine McKinnell MP, Dame Vera Baird (the Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria), and the Police officers who worked on the murders of Brent Martin and Lee Irving, two men with learning disabilities murdered by their ‘friends’.
ARC and Mate Crime: a potted history
Ten years ago ARC led the way in identifying and naming the phenomenon that is now widely known as ‘mate crime’. The Safety Net project followed the Serious Case review into the murder of Steven Hoskin and the raising of concerns by ARC members about everyday mate crimes that were affecting people who use their services, many of which involved sexual or financial exploitation.
The Safety Net project uncovered hundreds of stories of mate crimes, involving almost every form of criminality, from people whose ‘friends’ were relieving them of benefit money, to women with learning disabilities being pimped out by their ‘boyfriends’, to people whose accommodation was being used as drug dens, to a range of horrific murders across the country.
The impact of social media
As the funding ended for the Safety Net project in 2012 we became increasingly aware of the growth of mate crime committed via social media. This has been the most significant development in recent times. Five years ago only one fifth of people with learning disabilities even had access to a computer; it is now rare to meet anyone under the age of 25 who does not have a smart phone that is connected to the Internet 24/7.
Our members now tell us that social media is responsible for the majority of the personal issues that affect people who use their services, including bullying, scamming and grooming for financial and sexual exploitation, and even for terrorism. 75% of the young people being referred to the Channel programme in Devon and Torbay have been found to have learning disabilities and/or autism.
In addition County Lines is showing that people with learning disabilities with their own accommodation are now being regularly targeted by organised crime and becoming unwitting parties to the drugs trade in rural and seaside communities.
A new bid: a plea for your support
The growth of mate crime committed via social media is a huge concern, and ARC is looking to submit a major bid later this year for a new project, which will scope the issue and develop tools for fighting it. We are working with potential partners in Tyneside, Liverpool, Manchester and Plymouth but we also need YOUR HELP! Please, if you have any ideas or evidence that you can contribute we need to hear from you. We need to be able to prove that this is a real concern in the sector. Please email me at email@example.com.
Tackling Mate Crime
Mental Capacity Act
It is important not to confuse a person’s ability to perform an action with their capacity to understand it. For example someone may be able to perform the act of leaving the house, getting on the Metro and taking themselves to a particular location, but that does not mean that they have the capacity to understand the risks around that decision.
At the Sunderland conference some interesting thinking began to emerge about tools for tackling mate crime. The Safeguarding Adults Review that followed the murder of Lee Irving recommended that understanding and application of the MCA needed to be much better. Alison McDowell from the Newcastle SAB said, “As we know MCA assessments are decision and time specific. It’s really important that professionals identify specifically what decision is being assessed, but also recognise the multi-agency responsibility for assessing a person’s capacity. It is important not to confuse a person’s ability to perform an action with their capacity to understand it. For example someone may be able to perform the act of leaving the house, getting on the Metro and taking themselves to a particular location, but that does not mean that they have the capacity to understand the risks around that decision.”
Hate Crime enhanced sentences
In many mate crimes, including murder, there is a seeming reluctance to apply the sentence uplifts that are available to the courts for hate crime. The conference organiser, Graeme Littlewood, suggested that the law could be changed to include a specific offence of targeting someone because of a protected characteristic (such as learning disability). This would seem to offer a good way forward as that would be easier to evidence than ‘hatred’ in the mind of the offender.
ARC is now working with a service provider on Merseyside and a specialist MCA barrister on proposed new legislation (39 Essex Chambers) to address the key concern of what you do if someone, who is deemed to have capacity, chooses an abusive – even murderous – relationship. There are no easy answers here, and we are all keenly aware of the need to uphold the right to self-determination. It’s a tightrope, and these arguments will, quite rightly, play out for some time to come.
‘Mate crime’ as a term
A little controversy was sparked when one of the main speakers in Sunderland challenged the term “mate crime”, suggesting that it made it sound less serious, and trivialised what could be appalling offences. As it was ARC which first coined the phrase I naturally felt a little defensive and suggested that, whilst it was never a term I have felt particularly fond of, it is a phrase that has been adopted by many self advocacy groups, and is welcomed and widely used by people with learning disabilities as an accessible way of describing a phenomenon with which they are only too familiar.
Mate Crime: ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ film
The conference also saw the launch of a new film about mate crime, which was produced by students at Sunderland University. It is really an excellent summary of many of the issues involved and includes interviews with many of the key players in the murders of Brent Martin and Lee Irving. Well worth 25 minutes of your time, and it’s perfectly easy to skip my contributions, if you so wish to do so:
The conference garnered huge publicity in the North East and I found myself giving a range of TV and radio interviews during the day.
Our work in this area must continue and I for one am committed to working to help people with learning disabilities, their carers and support staff, to recognise Mate Crime – and stop it.
You can find out more about the conference and its media coverage by following these links:
- University of Sunderland: Shining a Spotlight on Mate Crime Conference
- South Tyneside Council Mate Crime Conference
- Region Committed to Tackling Mate Crime
Thursday 18 January:
Monday 22 January:
- Sun FM
- Sun FM
Tuesday 23 January:
Thursday 25 January:
Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird talking about the issue of mate crime on the Victoria Derbyshire show Tuesday 23rd January (starts at 40 minutes in) on BBC iPlayer.