‘A homophobic attack destroyed my life’: New push to tackle anti-LGBT hate crimes

The victim of a homophobic hate crime has told PinkNews about how it impacted his life, as the government launches a new action plan to tackle out anti-LGBT+ violence on Tuesday.

To mark Hate Crime Awareness Week, the government Tuesday has outlined plans including extra funding to support victims, improvement to the way incidents are responded to, and a nationwide public information campaign to educate people about hate crimes and tackle intolerance.

The plan seeks to focus on better ways to protect and support victims, and includes £1.5 million of funding to support educational programmes to tackle prejudice, and boosts support for LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop.

Pet shop owner Tom Barwick spoke to PinkNews about the drastic long-term impact hate crimes can have, after a violent homophobic attack during July’s Pride in London left him with a devastating back injury and a spinal fracture.

Barwick with some parrots in his pet shop World of Pets (Tom Barwick)

Barwick was attacked from behind while walking through London’s Greek Street, in Soho, on July 7.

The 50-year-old, who spent three-and-a-half hours waiting for an ambulance after getting himself to Stratford station, is still in a back brace four months later and relies on a crutch to walk.

“I thought I was going to die because the pain [was] so intense. I have a seven-year-old daughter, so I thought I was never going to see her again,” Barwick said.

He explained: “Everything has gone spiralling downwards. I rely on people to look after me all the time, look after me, help me with stuff every day. I can’t bend down, for example.

“Financially, I haven’t been able to work, but because I’m self-employed I don’t get sick pay or anything. I’ve had to pay extra for staff in my shop, so I can’t pay myself.

“Now I’ve defaulted on my credit cards. My bank is pushing me into a corner where I’m probably going to have to go bankrupt.”

Not all of the impact is physical.

“It’s impacted every aspect of my life,” Barwick added. “My daughter was scared the man was going to come after me again… it isn’t just my life that’s been affected, it’s those around me as well. I’m on antidepressants… I must say daily, about 20 times, I hate my life. It’s awful.”

Tom Barwick with his seven-year-old daughter (Tom Barwick)

Barwick added that while he was in hospital, the sluggish and impersonal response from the police left him isolated.

He said: “The first call was eight days after it happened, and it was on the phone, not even in person. I was in my hospital bed, going through this, and it would have been nice to see someone in person to show they care and are taking it seriously. To this day, I’ve never met a police officer, the whole time.

“I don’t think they took it seriously. The first officer I spoke to was quite unsympathetic and very to-the-point. [He] made me feel like it doesn’t matter, like it’s another mugging or something, and it wasn’t.”

It was only after Barwick got in touch with Galop, who contacted the police on his behalf, that the case was transferred to a specialist officer.

“The guy that’s got my case now, he’s been really good,” Barwick explained, “but by the time he took over, the CCTV from the pubs had gone because they only keep it for a month. If they hadn’t dragged their heels so much, they could have had a chance to catch them.”

The crime is still unsolved.

Speaking about the impact of the crime, he added: “It’s changed me. I used to be a really confident person, and that’s gone a bit.

“I was quite shocked that it happened in this day and age, really. My little girl goes to school, and there’s another boy in her school with two dads. It’s quite accepted now, but there [are] still people out there who think it’s fun to abuse and hurt and steal off someone. It has shocked me, and made me feel a lot more isolated when I should be feeling safer.

“Galop has been brilliant, absolutely brilliant. They’ve helped me with stuff, they phone me regularly to see how I’m doing, they’ve [paid for counselling] and when I’m better they’re going to put me on a self-defence training course.

“It’s now I need the help, and there’s nothing there to help me other than the gay organisations. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Government action plan on hate crimes

The government’s new action plan commits to “measures to examine the provision of victims services and enhanced police training” to help victims of hate crime.

The Home Office also asked the Law Commission to conduct “a review of the coverage and approach of current hate crime provisions, to ensure the existing law is working effectively.”

A graphic from the Home Office’s new public awareness campaign

Minister for Countering Extremism, Baroness Williams of Trafford, told PinkNews: “While the UK continues to be a tolerant country, there remains a minority of people who seek to intimidate or even attack someone because of their transgender identity or sexual orientation.

“Hate crimes can have a profound impact on the victim and their families. Those who commit such heinous attacks should feel the full force of the law.

“That is why our refreshed Action Plan puts the victim first and establishes how the criminal justice response will continue to improve to ensure more victims have the confidence to come forward and report an incident.

“We will continue to work closely with partners such as Galop, who provide invaluable support for the LGBT+ community and are working to enhance online reporting of incidents.”