Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Article - 23 August 2017

Every summer, hundreds of young people here in Swindon take part in the National Citizen Service (NCS). The scheme enables those aged between 15 and 17 to complete challenges, make their mark and build skills for work and life. I recently attended an NCS event here in Swindon. It was great to see the team working together in order to raise funds for Swindon Epilepsy Support Group.

According to official statistics, 1 in every 131 people suffer from epilepsy, so for a town like Swindon, this means there around 1200 sufferers. Epilepsy touches many families, including mine. In Partnership with the Rotary Club of Swindon Phoenix, Swindon Epilepsy Support Group aims to bring together those who are newly diagnosed and those who have lived with epilepsy for many years to share experiences and tips on how to cope with the particular issues suffering from epilepsy presents, as well as raising awareness of the condition in the local community. Further information about the group as well as contact details can be found by visiting http://www.swindonepilepsy.org.uk/

I am pleased that Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust have announced that they will review the decision to close the place of safety facility at Sandalwood Court. As mentioned in my column last week, I have argued against the move since the consultation was first announced back in March. Like many people in our town, I don’t think that moving the facility away from a large and growing population centre like Swindon is the right move for patients living here who are experiencing mental health problems. I recently wrote a joint letter along with North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson to the Health Secretary and the Chief Executive of NHS England opposing the plan and I will continue to argue against this move alongside the many constituents who have contacted me to back the campaign to oppose the changes.

In my role as Solicitor General, I continue to work hard to tackle and reduce hate crime. A hate crime is an offence where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or shows hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. Hate crime has absolutely no place in our society and can have a deep impact on people with long lasting effects. Whilst there have been more prosecutions than ever before, there are still many incidents that go unreported and too many victims are suffering in silence.

The Crown Prosecution Service has this week published revised legal guidance that sets out how prosecutors should make charging decisions and handle hate crime in court. I am pleased that as part of a new public statement, the Crown Prosecution Service has recognised that it has a responsibility to actively remove barriers to justice for disabled victims and witnesses, ensuring they get the right support to enable them to give their best evidence. Disability is an area where social attitudes are still ill informed. There is a lack of understanding within society about the nature and scale of disability hate. As disability takes many different forms, so do offences that are motivated by hostility to people who are disabled.

We need to make sure people are able to recognise when they’ve been a victim of hate crime and we need to do more to encourage people to report these crimes.