It’s nearly four years since Natasha Baker claimed two gold medals at London 2012, but the “fantastic” memories she has of her home Paralympic Games means it feels to her as if it was only last year.And she says her preparations for next month’s dressage competition in Rio – she is competing again in three events, with her “special boy” Cabral, known as JP – could not have gone better.She told Disability News Service: “It’s been a really fantastic year. I have won every one of the selection competitions. It couldn’t have gone better.”And despite helping her win three golds in London, JP’s performance has even improved.“He’s going better now than he was in London, which is fantastic,” she says. “He seems softer, more connected.”She places much of the credit for this down to a change of trainer since London.She says: “Everything seems to kind of slot into place; we are in a really good place at the moment and I’m feeling really excited about it.”JP has flown before, when Baker visited the Middle East last year for a competition, and she also believes they are ready for any weather conditions that Rio might throw at them.She says: “He’s used to the heat, he actually goes far better in the heat than in the cold. So I feel pretty prepared.“We only ride outdoors at home, so if it pours down with rain I think we will be used to that as well.”As for her hopes from the games, she says: “Obviously, three medals would make me have a grin from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat, but with horses you just never know what can happen, especially when we are travelling halfway around the world.“To come home with some medals would just be amazing, [but] as long as I go out and do my best and he does his best I will be a happy girl.”But she warns that other countries are “catching us up. They are chasing us at quite a rapid pace so to go out there and contend for a gold medal would be amazing, and hopefully we can do enough to bring it home.”She is due to compete on 13, 15 and 16 September.Baker was one of the Paralympians who spoke out to DNS before London 2012 about the importance of disability living allowance (DLA) to her and other athletes, and who spoke of their fears that government spending cuts could jeopardise their independence and that of other disabled people.Since then, the hugely controversial process to reassess working-age DLA claimants for the new personal independence payment has begun, with tens of thousands of disabled people already having their support cut or removed completely.Four years on from London 2012, Baker has decided not to speak about the reassessment process.Asked how she had been affected, she says only: “Yes, I’m all sorted. No change.” She declines to comment further.Speaking before the revelations of the Rio 2016 organising committee’s funding crisis, she says London 2012 “really propelled Paralympic sport forward”, and hopes that the Rio games will “do that even more so”.And she says she was not put off by health concerns about the Zika virus. “I’m not planning on having children any time soon.“Obviously it can be a concern but we have been given the best possible advice by the BPA [the British Paralympic Association], and they are updating it constantly on what’s going on and the latest medical advice, so I know we are in safe hands.”
A note from the editor:Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations. Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009. Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS… The police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are facing questions over why an “utterly barbaric” campaign of violence and abuse directed at a disabled mum and daughter was not treated as disability hate crime.A family of four were jailed last week for a total of more than 46 years for imprisoning the two disabled women and treating them as slaves as they forced them to work in two flats in Coventry.The mother and daughter were repeatedly beaten, and had to eat dried pasta, while the younger woman was so hungry she resorted to eating scraps of food from a bin.The court heard that the family knew the two women had learning difficulties but treated them in an “utterly barbaric manner”, preventing them accessing their own home, and restricting their access to food, heating and their ability to clean themselves.But despite the apparent evidence of disability-related hostility, the offences were not treated in court as hate crimes, so no attempt was made to seek stricter sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.The court had heard details of a campaign of bullying, intimidation and repeated violent assaults, led by ring-leader Jean Kelly.One of the two women was made to clean and carry out other chores at Kelly’s flat, while the other had to work at Kelly’s daughter’s flat in another part of Coventry. They were each paid one cigarette a day for their work.Jean Kelly was found guilty of two charges under the Modern Slavery Act (MSA), as well as offences of grievous bodily harm (GBH), actual bodily harm and conspiracy to falsely imprison, after a trial at Warwick Crown Court in September.Three other members of her family also received prison sentences, with her husband Michael jailed for 14 years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and GBH, their daughter Anastasia Hitt jailed for four-and-a-half years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and an MSA conspiracy charge, and her partner Ian Healy jailed for 14 years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and GBH.Media reports state that Jean Kelly, herself a wheelchair-user, assaulted one of the two women with a baseball bat she called “Bob”.She had previously been jailed for 18 months for pouring boiling water on her step-brother, who also had learning difficulties.The judge reportedly told Jean Kelly that her behaviour “demonstrates a sustained interest by you in taking advantage of those with learning difficulties and maltreating them”, while he said the other three members of the family had sought to exploit the pair for their own gain.But despite his comments, a CPS spokesman confirmed this week that prosecutors had not treated the offences as disability hate crimes.He said: “The CPS takes prosecution of all kinds of hate crime, including against disabled people, extremely seriously.“In order to prosecute a case as a hate crime there must be evidence the criminal actions are motivated by hostility towards the protected characteristic.“In this instance prosecutors felt the facts did not allow the case to be prosecuted as a hate crime but very serious charges were brought against the defendants who ultimately received prison sentences totalling almost 50 years.“Our thoughts are with the victims in this case and we hope the outcome offers them some comfort as they rebuild their lives.”West Midlands police refused this week to confirm its officers’ apparent failure to treat the offences as disability hate crimes, and why they failed to do so.The latest failure of the criminal justice system to recognise disability hate crime came just days after the CPS annual hate crime report showed that the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police forces in England and Wales plunged last year by nearly a quarter.The number of disability hate crime convictions also slumped, from 800 in 2016-17 to 564 in 2017-18 (a drop of 29.5 per cent).Earlier this month, a report by two watchdogs found that the work of police officers on more than half of the disability hate crime investigations examined across six sample police forces – not including West Midlands – had been found to be “unacceptable”.
THE Saints Girls Section has just passed a major milestone by reaching its first birthday and pictured are just some of the Saints Girls with their birthday cake.From its Taster Day launch with Paul Sculthorpe and Boots, the team has steadily grown to now number 20 players, and is gaining in strength, month by month.Thanks, very much in part, to its dedicated band of volunteers.Training is based on games of skill and fitness, with contact (tackle) work done for those that want.By player demand, the number of sessions has increased from weekly to twice a week and always with a smile on their faces.Over the year, commitment from the girls has shown through as the Section has taken part in a number of festivals, both touch and contact.They have put the skills learned in training to good use, putting increasingly competent performances on show with each festival.Some of the girls have been pointed out by the RFL Talent spotters for the new Player Pathway scheme for Regional and National players – a cracking achievement considering the standard of girls rugby at some of the Yorkshire and Cumbrian clubs, as well as that in the North West area.Congratulations to all the Saints Girls, and the support team.Any girls wishing to play under 12s, 14s or 16s Saints Girls and in their famous red vee or just to get fit, enjoy training for rugby league and make new friends, then just come along on a Wednesday evening or Saturday morning to Thatto Heath Crusaders, Close St., Thatto Heath and ask for Geoff Alford.You can also e-mail [email protected]
SAINTS will take on Wakefield Trinity Wildcats this afternoon in Jon Wilkin’s Testimonial Match.The game kicks off at 3pm and tickets are priced at £20 adults and £10 concessions (Solarking South Stand allocated and unallocated), and £16/£8 for the Hattons Solicitors West Stand.Family ticket prices are £50 for two adults and two kids (seating) and £40 for two adults and two kids (standing).They are available from the Ticket Office at Langtree Park or via the turnstiles.