A NATIONAL campaign for legislation to protect people with autism and learning disabilities from "mate crime" is being spearheaded by Wirral charity Autism Together.

Mate crime happens when vulnerable people are abused and manipulated by those they consider to be friends.

There is no law that exists in England to protect people in these circumstances - although Scotland and Wales both have laws in place.

The charity believe there are numerous examples of mate crime including people with autism being manipulated into football hooliganism, coerced into paying hundreds of pounds for nights out for friends and unwittingly storing drugs for so-called mates.

However this is just the tip of the iceberg with mate crime also involving sexual exploitation and physical abuse.

The proposed change to the law calls for:

  • A legal definition of mate crime, as the term isn't recognised by the police or judiciary
  • The introduction of banning orders for those suspected of manipulating the vulnerable
  • Legal protections for social workers wishing to investigate suspicious activity

Chief executive of Autism Together Robin Bush said: "Working with a leading barrister and other charity partners, we made our submission to the Law Commission late last year.

"The commission is looking at hundreds of requests for new laws.

"We were told recently that our submission has made it onto a shortlist.

"We'll hear late next month if our application has been successful.

"People with autism can be extremely naive when it comes to friendships - mostly because they struggle to form relationships.

"It's heartbreaking to hear about cases of mate crime and we'll keep fighting to have this horrible, hidden crime brought out into the open.

A 2015 survey by Autism Together found that 80 per cent of people with autism in Merseyside had felt bullied or had been taken advantage of by someone they considered a friend.

Anyone who has been affected can call 0151 666 9960 for confidential advice.