John Penrose MP...

PUBLISHED: 13:01 18 September 2006 | UPDATED: 09:53 24 May 2010

John Penrose

John Penrose

Last week I met a very remarkable man. Colin Bennett is well past retirement age and registered blind, but he was walking from Cheddar to Weston seafront to raise money for Weston Hospicecare

Last week I met a very remarkable man. Colin Bennett is well past retirement age and registered blind, but he was walking from Cheddar to Weston seafront to raise money for Weston Hospicecare. I joined him and his support crew for a while as they went through Winscombe. He was full of energy and enthusiasm for his cause.I was reminded of him again a few days later at police headquarters in Portishead, where I was supporting the launch of a campaign to stamp out hate crime. Most of us assume that hate crimes are targeted against gays, blacks, Muslims or Jews, but the problem goes much wider than that. It can even include crimes targeted against people because they're disabled, like Colin. Earlier this year, when I was working on incapacity benefit reform in parliament, I was horrified to find out that nearly half of disabled people regularly experience verbal abuse, intimidation or physical attacks. Not because they've done anything wrong, but simply because they're disabled. More than a third of the incidents are physical attacks. Less than half of the victims tell the police, and a quarter move home to escape their tormentors.That's why the new police campaign is so important. It aims to teach young people that it isn't a crime to be different, and to understand why discrimination and hatred are wrong. If we can bring up a new generation right, the cycle of hate crime may be broken.But alongside the campaign, maybe there's another, simpler way to show people that it isn't a crime to be different. We could just introduce them to Colin. Half an hour with his infectious enthusiasm and drive should convince anybody that being different isn't wrong. Sometimes it can be better too.

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