No repercussions for disability hate crimes on rail networks


As commuting levels begin to surge again, disability charities call for better measures to deter disability hate crime on the country’s rail networks.

  • Despite lockdowns and low transport use, disability hate crime on rail networks remains a worrying issue, with 16% of disability hate crime reports to British Transport Police in 2020/21 including violence.
  • None of the reports were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.
  • As public transport use continues to rise, charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response call on public to take a stand against disability hate crime and urge for more training for transport staff.

New research from charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response has revealed that disability hate crimes are on the rise again across England and Wales, with around 25 crimes reported to police every day in 2020/21.  

And despite lockdown and restrictions on travel last year, disabled people still experienced incidents of hate crime across the rail networks. An FOI of the British Transport Police found that there were 31 reports of disability hate crime in 2020/21, 16% of which included an element of violence. 

This is line with trends the charities discovered from 39 police forces across England and Wales, with almost half of the disability hate crimes reported to police last year classed as ‘violent’ (44%). These include assault and crimes involving weapons.

Emma from Birmingham recalled the disability hate crime she experienced on a London bus:

“When trying to board a bus once in my time as a student on the outskirts of London, a mother with a pram refused to fold her pram or move in any way to allow me access to the wheelchair space. She then verbally abused both the driver and I, swearing and using ableist slurs aimed at me. 

“I was verbally abused for simply wanting to board the bus as a wheelchair user. Verbally abused for simply wanting to go shopping. I think the most misunderstood thing about disability hate crime is the lasting impact it leaves. I still remember every detail of the incident I was victim in, years later.”

Worryingly, none of the reports to the British Transport Police in 2020/21 were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. While only 1% of cases reported to police were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service or received a charge.

Director of Policy at Leonard Cheshire Gemma Hope said:

“Disabled people have a right to feel safe in society and confident in reporting hate crimes. Yet many disabled people we have spoken to said they wouldn’t report the hate crime they experienced. There needs to be better access to disability specific support for victims of these crimes, and reporting processes need to be made easier too. 

“We echo the recent sentiments from The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers around investment in staff training and applaud the steps taken by the Office of Rail and Road recently to specifically train staff in offering assistance to disabled passengers. But this training needs to extend to disability hate crime awareness, with specialist disability liaison officer deployed across our rail networks to offer support. Otherwise, this is yet another barrier disabled people face when travelling, with our latest rail audit revealing 41% of stations lack step-free access.

“As many of us return to public transport on a regular basis, we must work together to ensure rail does not become a no-go area for disabled passengers.”

Having conducted in-depth consultation with disabled people who have experienced hate crime, the charities are keen to see disability specific support provided by police or charities to help people move forward after experiencing hate crime.

Most disabled people told the charities that one of the most important steps in tackling hate crime is creating a more accepting society where differences are tolerated. The Government’s National Disability Strategy pledged to raise awareness of disability and the charities want to see how this will be implemented with young people in schools.

United Response and Leonard Cheshire are now asking everyone to show they stand against disability hate crime, by sharing their latest findings with the hashtag #NoPlaceForHate and pledging to make their own online presence a safe space for all. 
Leonard Cheshire is also calling on people to sign up to their disability hate crime campaign at: leonardcheshire.org/hatecrime.


Media enquiries

For more information, interviews and high-res images please get in touch with Leonard Cheshire’s press team on 07903 949 388 or Claire.Farrell@leonardcheshire.org and Erin.O'Reilly@leonardcheshire.org or the United Response press team on 0208 246 5237 or at press@unitedresponse.org.uk.

Notes to editors

The charities both say disability should be named as a specific protected characteristic supported by the legislation and look forward to seeing the Law Commissions’ final recommendations in this area.

The bleak findings from the joint investigation are released today ahead of National Hate Crime Awareness Week, which starts on Saturday 9 October 2021.

About this study

Learning disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response received Freedom of Information (FOI) responses from the British Transport Police as well as 39 police forces across England and Wales. Nearly two thirds of police forces reported increases in disability hate crime for 2020/21.

The requests sought figures on disability hate crimes for each region, as well as figures showing the number of ‘violent’ crimes, crimes committed online, crimes committed by repeat offenders and crimes referred by police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Not every police force provided figures for each of these themes, but all 39 forces gave overall disability hate crime figures for their region – data which forms the bulk of this comparative study.

All percentages in this release are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Savanta ComRes research

Leonard Cheshire and United Response commissioned research consultancy Savanta ComRes to conduct focus groups with disabled people who have experienced hate crimes to better understand their experiences. The focus groups were conducted with disabled people living in England, Wales and Scotland. Respondents shared their experiences of disability hate crime and the reporting process, as well as what they would like to see change. The charities will be releasing a summary report based on their findings.

Savanta ComRes is an independent research consultancy specialising in public policy and communications, and sits within the wider Savanta group.

About United Response

United Response is a top 100 national charity that provides person-centred support to around 2,000 adults and young people with learning disabilities, mental health needs or physical disabilities – including some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Our vision is a society of equal rights and access where disabled people have the opportunity to live the lives they want to lead.

We provide bespoke support, from 24-hour care to a few hours a week, at around 400 locations across England and Wales. We employ approximately 4,000 staff and are regularly recognised with awards for our innovative, high quality range of services.

To find out more about United Response, please visit: www.unitedresponse.org.uk.