Warning: This story contains details relating to the murder of a vulnerable young woman that some will find upsetting.
It's all too easy to skim headlines about crime numbers and not comprehend the link to real people's lives. Crimes against people with disabilities have risen by 300% since 2011 (according to the most recent Home Office statistics), and an important new BBC Three documentary puts a face to this harrowing figure.
Gemma: My Murder tells the story of the vicious and senseless killing of 27-year-old Gemma Hayter, who was found dead and naked on a disused railway line, having been tortured, in Rugby, Warwickshire in August 2010 by a group of five young "friends". Despite her mother's years-long battle with social services and medical professionals to ensure she received the support she so clearly needed, Hayter had not been formally diagnosed with a learning disability when she died, leading to accusations that social services had failed her.
Crimes against people with disabilities have risen by 300% since 2011.
Featuring interviews with Hayter's mother, sister, the lead investigator from Warwickshire Police, her niece Taylor, friends and others who knew her, the documentary gives a startling view into how vulnerable people can be victimised, hurt and killed by people they know.
Gemma: My Murder recounts Hayter's murder at the hands of Daniel Newstead (19), Chantelle Booth (21), Joe Boyer (17), Jessica Lynas (18) and Duncan Edwards (19), who were found guilty of the killing in 2011 under legislation relating to disability hate crime, and received sentences ranging from 13 to 21 years.
The group spent hours assaulting Hayter in a flat. The details are disturbing and difficult to hear. They wrapped masking tape around her face, forced her to drink urine from a beer can and broke her nose. Gemma was stabbed and stamped on, stripped naked and left for dead on a disused railway track.
"All of her blood was up the radiator and up the wall," says her sister Nikki. "The whole thing is just so sad. Her life was just so shit all along. So for her to die in such a… it’s just… everything about it is horrible."
Hayter's death was also one of an increasing number of so-called 'mate crimes' – bullying or abuse by people who claim to be your friends. Her killers, whom she befriended when she moved into her own flat at 25, had previously stolen money from her, stored illegal drugs in her flat (a growing trend known as cuckooing, which sees vulnerable people exploited by gangs), and pressured her into shoplifting for them.
Hayter received an autism diagnosis as a child but a psychologist disagreed with the label when she was retested as an adult, leaving a young woman without the specialist help that those around her could see she needed. Two years before her death, Hayter personally wrote to the authorities pleading for assistance with hygiene and finding a job. "I would like a job. I need my independence," she wrote. "I would like someone to help me when I ask for it. This is what I need and want in my life."
Her sister Nikki says: "One of the most maddening parts of my time with Gemma was the fact that we knew she couldn’t do anything that the other kids could do. And yet nobody took her out of her regular school and put her somewhere else. I don’t know how she kept slipping through the net because she was quite obviously struggling."
There were several missed opportunities to help her before she died.
A serious case review conducted after Hayter's murder concluded she had suffered from "a range of physical health conditions and her appearance has been described as being suggestive of a congenital disorder, genetic syndrome or birth defect, though all clinical tests for such conditions have been negative"; and that there were several missed opportunities to help her before she died.
"I’d tell other parents in my position to go with your gut instinct," says Hayter's mother Sue, who could tell that her daughter was developing differently from her other two children at an early age. "You know your own child and if you think something’s wrong, it’s probably wrong.
"That’s why I kept going back to the authorities and humiliating myself. But they wouldn’t listen. I was called an attention seeker. But I kept going back because I knew something was wrong – you do that for your children. I needed help."