PARENTS of a seriously disabled teenager have spoken of their horror after a man smashed up their £15,000 mobility car and their daughter was verbally abused by a gang.
The case, which has seen a man given a suspended prison sentence for the attack, has prompted a call from police for more people to report hate crimes against disabled people, with concerns that too many cases go unreported.
The mother of severely autistic Katie Simons is furious that Thomas Harold Keogan was not sent straight to jail for the episode in Wheatley, Doncaster.
Police have admitted not enough disability hate crime is being reported to them, and they are encouraging more victims to come forward.
Last year only two hate crimes against disabled people were reported in Doncaster and so far this year there has been only one.
Mum Margaret Simons said she had a nervous breakdown after the incident near the Londis mini-market in Beckett Road last December, when a gang of yobs started making cruel comments about Katie’s disability while she was sitting in their Vauxhall Zafira people carrier.
Katie is 19 but has the mental age of a five-year-old and cannot communicate properly.
Mrs Simons said: “They were calling Katie names and jumping on the car. They knew she was disabled, and all they could do was laugh at her. Katie had her head in her hands.”
Doncaster Crown Court was told Mrs Simons was so upset and frightened she drove straight home to their house in Wheatley - but then realised that in her hurry she had left her shopping at the supermarket.
When she went back the gang was still hanging around and being abusive so she tried to drive off again.
“There were about 20 of them and one of them punched my son, Steven, who got out of the car to push them away,” she said.
“Then Keogan pulled up in his van in front of me and got out with this five-pronged garden rake and started hitting the car with it.
“I don’t know why he became involved because the police say he has no connection to these teenagers.
“He just kept calling me names and said he would ‘wrap the rake around my neck’.”
The court was told Keogan then drove at a female police community support officer who had arrived at the scene, but she took his registration number and he was arrested later.
At court Keogan, aged 40, a father-of-five, of Basil Avenue, Armthorpe, admitted affray and was spared immediate custody only because of his previous good character and his guilty plea.
The judge sentenced him to six months, suspended for two years, and ordered him to do 200 hours of community service.
He is also subject to a three-year restraining order which prevents him from having any contact with the Simons family.
Mrs Simons was shocked and upset by the sentence.
She said: “I can’t believe he hasn’t gone down. There’s no justice. I had a nervous breakdown over this. My daughter might be disabled but she’s got feelings.
“We often have unpleasantness when we go out with Katie. We can go to town and people are laughing at her.
“She knows when people are taking the mickey so she spends a lot of time at home.”
The Simons’ mobility car was so badly damaged it was written off and replaced. The family have also had a panic alarm fitted to their home.
Keogan’s defence counsel, Paul O’Shea, described the incident as ‘wholly out of character’.
“He knows his conduct was appalling and knows it is serious,” he said. “He wants to put something back into the community.”
Police have used the case to highlight the issues about disability hate crime not being reported to them.
Det Insp Mel Palin, the force’s lead for hate crime, said: “South Yorkshire Police treat hate crime very seriously. We seek to identify all hate related incidents at the earliest possible stage so we can give victims and witnesses the support they require and gather sufficient evidence in order to bring offenders to justice.
“When a hate crime is reported, South Yorkshire Police investigate the incident thoroughly and work with other organisations to identify previous issues or tensions in the area.
“It is recognised nationally that hate crime in general, and especially disability-related hate crime, is under-reported.
“We would always encourage anyone who is, or has been, a victim, or has witnessed this type of behaviour to report the matter to us.
“Even if you are unsure whether what you have experienced or witnessed was a crime, by reporting the incident it will enable the police to work with other organisations to understand the extent of the issue, so we can respond to it appropriately.”