"Hate crime with regard to disability is massively under reported. But it's not acceptable and it has to stop"
PC Ashton Hate CrimeCommunity Cohesion Officer
Hate crime? So does PC Ian Ashton.
High profile examples of bigotry – particularly against the LGBT community – have hit the headlines in recent weeks.
There’s been a furore over Donald Trump’s racist slurs against four Democratic congresswomen.
Many fear the rise in right wing populism is leading to an increase in hate crime on the streets nationally – and globally.
It’s the award-winning copper’s duty to raise awareness, respond to complaints and do anything in his power to curb the incidence of hate crime on his patch – Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre, Lancaster and Morecambe.
It’s a big catchment area for one specialist officer but it’s also a labour of love, as Ian told members of Blackpool-based N-Vision’s sight loss support group in highlighting some of the challenges he’s faced personally.
This year he was awarded the College of Policing Diversity award for his work in this area.
Ian urges others to recognise that hate crime may fall under five categories but also takes many forms. “You can be targeted for being overweight, for having ginger hair, for dressing differently,” he points out - citing the legacy of the late Sophie Lancaster, beaten to death by teenagers in a Lancashire park for being different.
From that tragedy came the catalyst for change.
Yet hate crime remains under reported - "massively" so in the case of disability-related incidents.
It's one of the reasons why the charity’s community services manager Maria Kirkland invited Ian to speak to N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind.
Ian explained: “I’ve got 26 years with Lancashire police. I joined at 21, did the normal response work, 999 and non-emergency, before moving onto neighbourhood policing then onto traffic.
“When I joined I was single. I got married to a police officer, we had a child, 19 now, who has lots of disabilities so I’m very passionate about that area, too.
“My wife and I split up, then I came out as gay, and at that time there weren’t many people in the police service who openly gay.”
Ian admits he found the lack of support very difficult as an individual. “I felt I needed to make a difference for people, no matter who they are, what they are, what they do, so I became the Equality and Diversity officer at Lancashire Police headquarters.
“I dealt with that for a few years before moving to Blackpool. My role, Hate Crime and Community Cohesion Officer now covers Blackpool, Fylde, Wyre, Lancaster and Morecambe, a big area for one officer.
“I work with people who may have been victims of hate crimes, and also with groups and different communities, to address any issues they may have, and try to improve things. I still do operational stuff too.
“I’ve been in this role in Blackpool for around six years now. We know that hate crime happens. People become victims; we also know not all realise it.
“In the UK five categories cover hate crime: race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender and disability. That can be any disability, physical, mental health, sensory – hearing loss, visual impairment.
"f you perceive yourself or a friend or loved one to have been targeted for that reason - we want it reported. Hate crime with regard to disability is massively under reported. But it’s not acceptable and it should stop.”
A Hate Crime is any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; person’s disability or perceived disability or against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.
If you have witnessed or been a victim of hate crime report it:
· call 101 or in an emergency 999
· Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111
· Report in person at your local police station