"Abused every time I go out on my scooter": how one Preston woman is fighting back against disability hate crimes
A disabled woman says she is the victim of hate crime every time she uses her mobility scooter - because people don't realise she is legally allowed to be on the road.
Inez Wormell, 61, from Lea, has a spine condition, and has used her road-legal scooter for the past 10 years.
She said she has been spat at and is regularly shouted and sworn at by drivers and passengers in cars travelling on the same road as her.
"It happens a lot", she said. "Maybe three times a month I'll go out on my scooter and every time I am abused."
On Friday, Inez said she suffered her worst experience yet, which has left her fearful of going out again.
At the junction of Layton Road and Blackpool Road, Inez was waiting at the T junction, indicating to go right. As she waited for an opportunity to pull out into the traffic, a taxi pulled alongside her, around six inches away from her scooter.
Inez said: "I glanced to look at him briefly, then turned back to the traffic. It was all quiet and as soon as it was clear, I moved out.
"He moved out a the same time, matching my speed, and then started to move into my path.
"He shouted to me 'You're not a car, you shouldn't be on the road!', and I had to swerve to avoid his wheel hitting me. Then I came to a stop in a lane of what would have been oncoming traffic, if any cars had have been there."
Inez said she was left "a bit of a mess", but managed to pull into the correct lane, then stopped on a pavement, while the taxi driver drove away.
Having mentally made a note of the taxi firm and part of the registration plate, she called the police, who initially took the matter seriously, but then told her that no road offence had occured, and it wouldn't be taken further.
She also said she rang the taxi company, but they were not interested in her complaint.
She said: "I can deal with being spat at, but this terrified me.
"This was dangerous. I'm six-and-a-half stone, I'm frail. What was his thought process? This was in broad daylight in the middle of the day.
"I'm not just thinking about myself here, I'm thinking about other people using the road."
Inez, who used to work assembling car and HGV silencers and also in a bar before her bone condition prevented her from doing so, sought advice from Disablility Equality North West on the matter, who advised her it was a hate crime as she had been targetted for being in a mobility scooter.
The matter has now been reported to Lancashire Police's Hate Crime Unit.
Melanie Close, chief executive of Disability Equality North West, said: "Unfortunately hate crimes and incidents are an all too common occurrence for disabled people, very often incidents can escalate where people are known in local neighbourhoods or where they try to challenge the abuser – a simple thing like telling someone that you have a right to ride a scooter in the road can lead to further incidents of abuse.
"For some it’s a daily occurrence and can stop them wanting to go out. We work closely with Lancashire Police to resolve disputes and bring offenders to justice, we also support the individuals to report their incident to the Police and afterwards as they struggle to come to terms with it."
Inez says she has not been able to eat properly since the incident, and it has put her off going out on the scooter.
She also wants the police to learn from the experience, and not dismiss such complaints without advising people on whether there could be another way of investigating the issue - in this case, as a hate crime rather than a traffic offence.
Mobility scooters are allowed on the road in the UK if they meet certain requirements. These conditions are defined by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and include the scooter being capable of up to 8mph on the road, having an effective braking system, front and rear lightrs, indicators, a horn, and rear view mirror.
Inez said: "I have a spinal issue, so I do go on the road if the pavement is too bumpy or there's too many pedestrians.
"My scooter is full road-legal, I have it serviced every year, and I am legally allowed to be there.
"It's well passed the time that people should know we are allowed to do this, and the number of people using mobility scooters is only going up."
She added: "We need to inform the public that harrassing people on scooters is illegal. We are real people. This is a real issue."
What do the police say?
PC Ash Gibson from Preston Police, said: “We understand why the victim was distressed by this incident and the incorrect information she subsequently received when trying to report the matter to the police. We have been in contact with her to offer our apologies and we have assured her that we will be treating this as a hate incident.
“We will be speaking to the taxi company involved in due course to try and trace the driver and shall be offering them words of advice.
“We would always encourage victims of hate crimes to report them to us on 101 or through the Constabulary website www.lancashire.police.uk. Alternatively they can be reported through True Vision, a national online reporting facility at www.report-it.org.uk”
What is the law around using mobility scooters on the road?
Mobility scooters are allowed on the road in the UK if they meet certain requirements. These conditions are defined by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).
A road legal mobility scooter is referred to by the DVLA as a ‘Class 3 invalid carriage’. Capabilities of a class 3 scooter are characterised as follows;
A maximum device speed of 6.4kph (4mph) off the road.
Capable of up to 12.8kph (8mph) on the road.
150kg (330pounds) maximum weight without the operator.
Width not exceeding 0.85metres (33inches).
An effective braking system.
Front and rear lights as well as reflectors.
Indicators which are also capable of operating as hazard warning signals.
An audible horn.
A rear view mirror.
An amber flashing light if the operator wishes to use the vehicle on a dual carriageway.
A scooter with the above faculties must be registered with the DVLA;
There is no driving test for using a mobility scooter on the road however you must follow the Highway Code.