Police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Committee (IPCC) has heavily criticised Greater Manchester Police (GMP) over how the force dealt with the anti-social behaviour experienced by David Askew and his family over several years.
Askew, who was aged 64 and had learning disabilities, collapsed and died of a heart attack on March 10, 2010 after confronting a gang of youths who had reportedly thrown a wheelie bin around and tampered with his mother's mobility scooter. Following Askew’s death, it emerged that the he and his family had suffered harassment and anti-social behaviour over a number of years. Between January 2004 and March 2010 there were 88 reported incidents involving the family.
The IPCC’s investigation identified “higher level systemic failures” within GMP. Failures included a lack of consistent identification of, and response to, the vulnerability factors affecting the Askew family and a “total failure to recognise and respond to the incidents as ‘hate crime’”. Indeed, the IPCC found that the incidents involving the Askew family were never recorded as hate crime by any of the police officers or call handlers. Without such identification there was never the possibility to deal with the incidents at a more strategic level as a priority.
IPCC Commissioner Naseem Malik said: “Anti-social behaviour is the type of low level crime that can pass beneath the radar of police. However for the families experiencing such crime it can be a horrific experience. The Askew family had experienced years of torment at the hands of local youths who targeted David in particular.”
Malik acknowledged that since 2007 the Neighbourhood Police Team had increased its efforts to assist the family, even giving up their free time to assist them in some cases. “However their hands were tied by organisational shortcomings and the failure to recognise that the matter needed a higher level strategic approach. “The lack of consistent identification of, and response to, the vulnerability factors affecting the Askew family; the total failure to recognise and respond to incidents as hate crime as well as the apparent lack of coordination and cohesive action between partner agencies; and the lack of robust offender management, all led to incidents being dealt with locally and in isolation over a number of years. “While the Askew family perceived the work of the local team as assisting and giving them some comfort, they were actually being failed at a higher level as opportunities to implement a coordinated approach to tackle and deal with the problems was being missed. They were left with a sticking-plaster solution when the matter needed extensive surgery.”
Malik added that GMP has recognised its failings in the case can have undertaken work, coupled with the IPCC’s investigation to “learn lessons”. She added that strategies and structures are now in place to tackle anti-social behaviour including the identification of vulnerability, repeat victimisation and offender management.
Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap, said that it is a major problem that crimes such as those suffered by Askew are often ignored: “What Mr Askew experienced was terrible and prolonged abuse. Too often, the victim is seen as the trouble-maker or these incidents are dismissed just as anti-social behaviour. “Mencap estimates that as many as 9 out of 10 people with a learning disability are verbally harassed or exposed to violence due to their disability. It is hate crime and deserves to be taken as seriously as racial, religious and homophobic crime. “Greater Manchester Police's recognition of its failings to link the incidents and record them as hate crime and its undertakings to improve how the force will respond in the future are positive steps.”