6 May 2013

Call for action on hate crime against people with autism

Autistic victims of crime are being let down by the criminal justice system, campaigners tell Channel 4 News Science Reporter Asha Tanna.

The stress of the last seven years weighs heavy on Margaret Palmer’s shoulders. She still cannot get over the fact that the grandson she raised is dead.

Adrian Palmer suffered from Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. He was just 21 when he was found strangled in a street in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire.

His grandmother is convinced he was let down by police and the judicial system, who she says failed to protect him when they had the opportunity.

He was vulnerable and became a target because of his condition, but we weren’t given any help. Margaret Palmer

“He was vulnerable and became a target because of his condition, but we weren’t given any help. People with the condition do not look as if they have a disability and so their special needs go ignored.

“Yes I’m angry, and at the time we were very worried because of the threats. Adrian was our priority. We even wrote to the prime minister. We just didn’t know what to do. I feel he was treated differently to other people, I think they were scared to believe what he was saying. He had no support.”

In January 2006, four months before his death, Adrian contacted police and made an allegation that he had been raped. Police investigated the claim but decided not to prosecute after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: “He was not a credible witness due to his mental health issues”.

Channel 4 News contacted the CPS but it was unable to give us a response. No one was ever convicted of the rape.

Adrian’s condition made it difficult for him to recall exact dates and times of when things happened.

After the allegations and right up until his death, the family reported that Adrian was receiving threatening phone messages from the alleged rapist. His grandmother sent Mr Palmer to Wales for his safety. But when he returned home he was killed.

In 2010 an investigation led by the Independent Police Complaints Commission watchdog was highly critical of West Mercia’s handling of the Palmer case during the run-up to the attack.

It concluded that Adrian was badly let down and found two officers guilty of misconduct. The report also set out a string of recommendations to the force when dealing with autistic and vulnerable people in the future.

Two years for a life

Local man Ben Murphy was subsequently convicted of Adrian’s manslaughter but only served a third of his sentence in prison.

“He was given six years but only spent two years inside, which is really hurtful – to think that someone’s life is not worth more,” said Mrs Palmer.

“Why should people like Ade have to suffer? If they’re given respect and support they can lead really good lives. Everyone needs to wake up, they (the authorities) have a lot more to learn. They could have listened to Adrian and taken him more seriously.”

She has since set up a charity Aid for Asperger’s to raise awareness about the condition.

Channel 4 News has been given figures from a UK-wide survey published this year and carried out by The National Autistic Society (NAS) on disability hate crime.

It asked carers and those who suffer from autism of their experiences. The overall picture is shocking and critical.

While Adrian’s case is extreme, the NAS says police need to do more to educated frontline officers who may come into contact with vulnerable people.

Chief Executive of the NAS, Mark Lever (pictured, left), told Channel 4 News: “We were shocked and appalled by the way people with autism has been treated.

“They’ve been subjected to physical abuse, verbal abuse, exploitation.

“When you look at the police force you see a fairly patchy response to people with autism and disabilities generally.

“I think we’re shocked by some of these sentences and I think it’s really important that the whole Crown Prosecution Service, the criminal justice system take into account the disability hate nature of these crimes.”