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A hard-hitting new film and web resource is set to be launched to help protect people with learning disabilities from a disturbing type of crime.

South Tyneside Council has been working with the University of Sunderland to capture on film the impact of mate crime on vulnerable people. The film will be showcased at a regional #WhoRYa conference taking place later this month.

Mate crime is a form of hate crime and refers to people befriending those with disabilities before going on to abuse or exploit the relationship. This could range from a family member repeatedly taking money from a disabled relative or a ‘friend’ holding regular gatherings at their victim’s home to the committing of more serious crimes such as threatening or violent behaviour or much worse.

The documentary – Tale of Two Cities – sets the scene for the conference, reflecting on the high profile murder cases of Lee Irving, of Newcastle, and Brent Martin, of Sunderland, among extreme examples of mate crime in the region. The film has been created by the university’s final year media and film production students.

Councillor Moira Smith, Lead Member for Area Management and Community Safety at South Tyneside Council, said: “This project highlights a crime which is likely to happen more often if we don’t act now. With advancements in technology giving people with disabilities greater independence, this also comes with risk, and it is highly distressing that there are cruel people in this world who will take advantage of this, abusing the trust of some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

“Through this project the Council and its partners want to mobilise whole communities to recognise mate crime and help stop it. We must all do what we can to protect people with learning disabilities.

“To have the university students on board has been wonderful. They have shown great passion in supporting us to raise awareness of mate crime and give people with disabilities, and agency professionals, the tools to help protect themselves and others from this cruel and disturbing type of crime. Their film is both moving and thought-provoking.”

The film illustrates the challenges faced by vulnerable people and the work being undertaken by South Tyneside Council and its partners to tackle this problem. The 18-minute video features interviews with professionals involved in the Lee Irving and Brent Martin cases as well as specialists and guest speakers at the conference.

A further video being screened at the conference gives an insight into the wider #WhoRYa mate crime project and how it came about, with footage from South Tyneside Ability Football Club and some of the challenges its members face when using social media. Professional footballers such Shay Given, Jonathan Woodgate and Julia Arca also feature in the film, lending their support to the project.

University of Sunderland’s Module Tutor, Sue Perryman said: “This has been a very worthwhile experience for our media students and a great piece of work for them to do in their final year as they put their skills into practice.

“Due to the sensitive subject matter, the students have been emotionally moved by the project and have really valued the opportunity to work with a client and the wider community to help make a difference around such an important issue as mate crime.”

The two films will feature on a new online resource, which is also being developed by the university students, and designed to help support potential victims of mate crime by providing advice about how vulnerable people can stay safe, particularly online.

The #WhoRYa conference, taking place in Sunderland on 22 January, aims to increase understanding of mate crime when it brings together professionals from around the region to look at how agencies can work together more effectively to tackle the issue.

The mate crime project is being led by South Tyneside Council and South Tyneside Safeguarding Adults Board in partnership with the University of Sunderland, South Tyneside Ability Football Club, charity Your Voice Counts, Northumbria Police, neighbouring local authorities and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.