Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Two charged with murder of man with learning disabilities in possible disability hate crime

policeTwo men have been charged with the murder of Newcastle man, Lee Irving, whose death police are treating as a disability hate crime.

Detectives charged James Wheatley, aged 28, of Studdon Walk, Newcastle with murder. They also charged Barry Imray, aged 31, of no fixed abode, with murder and perverting the course of justice.

Two males aged 50 and 23 years old, along with two females aged 50 and 20 have been bailed pending further enquiries.

The body of 24-year-old Irving was found on a grassed area in Hazeldene Avenue in Fawdon in Newcastle on the morning of June 6 following reports of concern for a man.

Police and ambulance staff attended and a 24-year-old man was declared dead at the scene. A post mortem was later carried out and the results have led police to launch a murder investigation.

Irving, from Camperdown in East Denton, had learning disabilities and has been described by police as “vulnerable”. One of Northumbria Police’s key lines of enquiry has been to establish whether this was a factor in his death.

Irving’s family have released a statement paying tribute to him: “Lee was a wonderful young man. Loved by many, he used to love ice-skating, going to the pictures and enjoying life. He will be very sadly missed by all who knew him. What we have lost is irreplaceable and we must live with our loss every day. We would like to thank everyone who has supported us at this devastating time. Lee will always remain in our hearts and thoughts.”

Newcastle Superintendent Bruce Storey said: “It’s thought those involved in this incident know each other.

“It’s important those suspected of being responsible face the consequences of their actions and I would urge anyone who was in Fawdon on Saturday morning, between 7am and 9am, to come forward and speak to us. If they saw anything at all that seemed out of the ordinary, no matter how insignificant they think it is we would ask them to get in contact.”

Treat disability hate crimes seriously

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of learning disability charity Mencap said they were “truly appalled” to hear of this potential disability hate crime.

“Unfortunately, Mencap hears of many cases where people with a learning disability and their families are forced to endure the misery of hate crime. This case shines a light on the attitudes some sections of society hold towards people with a learning disability, and just how far we have to go until people with a learning disability are free from such horrific crimes.

“Hate crimes against people with a disability need to be treated as seriously as any other hate crime, and the law must be changed to reflect this. Prosecution rates still remain woefully low for disability hate crimes, with just 1% of those recorded by the police resulting in prosecutions. This needs to change. Everyone working in the criminal justice system must take disability hate crime seriously and apply the full strength of the law, so people with a disability – and their families – can get justice if a despicable crime like this one is committed against them. Alongside this, greater awareness of learning disability amongst the public is very much needed and must be taught from an early age in schools, so children understand why it is so wrong to target someone because of their disability.”

Ciara Lawrence, who has a learning disability and works for Mencap, added: “As someone with a learning disability it makes me feel sad and scared that somebody may have had their life taken because of who they are. Nobody should be murdered, especially not because of their disability. That is completely wrong.

“If police are looking at this as a disability hate crime then I am pleased. Disability hate crimes happen too often and go unnoticed. People still don’t understand learning disability and people bully and victimise people with a disability because they are seen as different. This needs to stop and I hope I never have to hear of cases like this again.”

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