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‘The Murder of Lee Irving: Disability Mate Crime’ is a must-watch for everyone

Lee Irving
Photo: Northumbria Police/PA

The tragic murder of developmentally disabled 24 year old Lee Irving will be the focus of a new documentary airing in March.

In June 2015, Lee’s body was found dumped in Newcastle after he was tortured and beaten to death by a man he lived with on and off and considered his friend.

Lee’s mother Bev has worked tirelessly since his death to have a law introduced that will protect other vulnerable adults, saying, “The only thing we can do is to make sure these evil cowards who prey on vulnerable young people and adults are dealt with properly by the courts.  I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what we have been through since his death.”

Lee was diagnosed with severe speech and learning disabilities at age four and attended a special needs school.

Bev always worried that her son would be bullied and be taken advantage of by others.

As an adult, Lee was befriended by James Wheatley who, in addition to others, used Lee as “slave labour” by making him dependent on them for drugs and alcohol.  In June 2015, Wheatley held Lee captive at his home, beating and sedating him to prevent escape.  When Lee died, Wheatley dumped his body not far from the house.

The autopsy showed that Lee had suffered numerous injuries including 27 broken ribs, fractured nose and jaw, and damage to internal organs.

The new documentary, “The Murder of Lee Irving: Disability Mate Crime,” tells the story of Bev’s crusade to bring forth legislation called ‘Lee’s Law’, making abuse to disabled people a specific hate crime, much like those to do with race and religion.

Bev, 48, said, “These evil bullies took advantage of him.  They used him as slave labour sending him to strip walls and run errands, do shopping and clean houses; working for nothing and all the time they were beating him up and abusing him.  His benefits were going into their pockets.

“Lee was not properly equipped to be able to handle his own money. He needed help from his family, the people who loved him and who he could trust.”

Newscastle North MP Catherine McKinnell has given her full support to Lee’s mother and is helping in her fight to introduce ‘Lee’s Law.’  Speaking about the abuse of vulnerable people, MP McKinnell said, “This has given rise to the phrase ‘mate crime’, where individuals take advantage of someone’s vulnerabilities, bullying them physically, psychologically, or stealing money and possessions.  Mencap also highlight that children with special educational needs are twice as likely as other children to be bullied regularly.”

MP McKinnell raised the case in a Commons debate, stating, “From the most appalling case in my constituency – the abuse and murder of Lee Irving – I know that so-called mate crime is an enormous danger, particularly for people with learning disabilities.

“The phrase does not adequately describe in any way the serious financial, physical and often sexual exploitation faced by far too many disabled people at the hands of those they are led to believe are their friends.

“Although many disabled people can feel isolated in the real world, the friendships that they develop on social media platforms can actually pose a real danger and harm.

“Social media companies do not have a grip on this, and the legislation does not reflect the seriousness of such offences.”

Wheatley, then 29, was found guilty of murder following a trial and was given a life sentence.  He must spend a minimum of 23 years in prison.

A case review was conducted, highlighting the failings and missed opportunities to save Lee.  The report, prepared by Newcastle Safeguarding Adults Board, revealed, that despite constant appeals from his family, little was done to help Lee after he was targeted by Wheatley.

Elliot Reed, executive producer at Zeppelin films, which made the documentary, said, “Fourteen agencies, including social services, were involved with Lee since he was four years old.

“A review concluded there were multiple failings to safeguard Lee, who was in and out of prison.  Six years on, those closest to Lee are still struggling to come to terms with his death.

“This is his story.”

The Murder of Lee Irving: Disability Mate Crime premieres at 9pm on March 28, on Sky Crime and NOW TV.

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