The above is an editable open letter — it is editable so that you can add your name to the bottom of it. I would be particularly interested in signatures from anyone with a position of authority — anyone who has written a book, edits or writes a well-known blog, runs or has a position of responsibility in a relevant organisation or who runs an online forum or mailing list related to these issues, but if anyone else wants to sign, the more the merrier. The letter is an appeal to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, to appeal the sentence given to a man, Jordan Sheard, who inflicted a horrific and painful death on a vulnerable young man, Steven Simpson, in June 2012. The sentence was 3 1/2 years; I believe it ought to be at least double that. The letter, and the rest of this entry, contain the details and a trigger warning applies.
I need to get some signatures fairly quickly, because there is a time limit for appealing a sentence on grounds of undue leniency.
Simpson died of burns inflicted after a group of his ‘friends’, including Sheard, poured tanning oil over his body during his (Simpson’s) 18th birthday party. The group, who knew Simpson a little but were not close friends, also scrawled abusive slogans related to homosexuality on Simpson’s body. They egged Sheard on to “light it, see what it does”. Sheard took a cigarette lighter and applied it to Simpson’s groin area, which caused him to catch light. After a brief attempt to help, Sheard fled the scene. Simpson suffered 60% burns. He survived long enough to identify his attackers, but died the next day in hospital.
Simpson had Asperger’s syndrome, a speech impediment and epilepsy. There have been other incidents where so-called friends have inflicted harm on a person with a learning disability, and the victim has not extricated themselves from the situation because they were desperate for company, and preferred their tormentors’ company to nobody’s. Some of these have resulted in death. It is disturbing to read that Simpson appeared to be ‘enjoying’ the situation right up until the point where Sheard set him on fire. The fact is that most gay men would not want people using slogans like those in their earshot, let alone writing them on their body. It is also likely that Simpson did not realise their intentions, and people with Asperger’s syndrome often do not read social cues properly, and mistook their malicious assaults for friendly ‘horseplay’. It is also a fact that people who are being bullied sometimes do not resist sexual abuse if it is disguised as friendliness, because it is the only ‘friendly’ attention they are getting.
It is a mystery that Sheard and others involved were not charged with murder: pouring what one believes to be an accelerant on someone’s naked body is likely to cause burns, and occasioning grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent and killing someone in the process is murder. Even as manslaughter, 3 1/2 years is derisory for a group assault which results in a painful death, when the assault has obvious sexual overtones (i.e. that it was his groin area that Sheard put the lighter to). He is likely to be out in less than two years. This gives the distinct impression that the lives of people with learning disabilities, people who are regarded as freaks or outcasts, are not worth much, and that if you can pretend that your assault was ‘just play’, you can disguise it as an accident. The authorities need to get wise to exploitation and bullying of vulnerable people and treat it with the seriousness it deserves.
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- Who gets believed?