Leicestershire Police have been severely criticised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for a number of failings in the case of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick after suffering years of hate crime.
The IPCC report said that not identifying Pilkington and her children as a vulnerable family lay at the core of Leicestershire Police's failure to provide a cohesive and effective approach to the anti-social behaviour the family suffered. In addition, the report found that:
- Police officers had systems in place which, had they been used properly, could have shown the true level of harassment the family were subjected to over a number of years
- Incidents were too often dealt with by officers in isolation and with an unstructured approach
- Officers should have picked up on Pilkington's repeated assertion the situation was 'on-going' and that it was her family in particular being targeted
- Officers did not identify a difference in the level of seriousness between general anti-social behaviour and specific harassment of the Pilkington family, and they failed to consider their treatment as hate crime.
As a result of the IPCC investigation, four officers - an inspector, a sergeant and two police constables - will face a misconduct meeting. One other constable is receiving management action from the force for unsatisfactory performance. But none are at risk of losing their job. The IPCC has already made a number of recommendations to Leicestershire Police around information sharing between officers and the handling of vulnerable people, which the force has accepted. In response to the report, David Congdon, disability charity Mencap's head of campaigns and policy, said: "The police failed to deal with repeated incidents of anti-social behaviour or crucially to even acknowledge the persistent harassment experienced by the family as disability hate crime.
The report also highlights how desperate attempts by Fiona Pilkington to get the police to take her complaints about sustained abuse seriously were ignored with fatal consequences. "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. If similar cases are to be prevented from happening again this report underlines that police must treat disability hate crime as seriously as racial, religious and homophobic crime."
Meanwhile, Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said: "We hope that this IPCC report will drive further, much needed, improvements in the way police forces respond to hate crime and persistent anti-social behaviour against disabled people. "Many disabled people are still reluctant to report such hate crime and anti-social behaviour, but for those that do, it is vital that their concerns are taken seriously by frontline police officers and dealt with promptly and appropriately. "It's encouraging that Leicestershire Police has sought to improve their structures and procedures, but tackling anti-social behaviour is not just a matter for the police. A concerted effort is required to ensure much more effective joined-up working between police forces, local authorities, housing providers, disabled people and the local community to ensure that incidents like this are never allowed to happen again."