Posted in disability, editorial, Olympics 2012, opinion on January 25th, 2016 by John Coxon

oscar PISTORIUS medal


London’s 2012 Paralympic Games was a milestone first in terms of the long awaited media parity with the conventional games and playing, for the first time,  to equally packed venues making  a number of athlete’s with a disability celebrated as national heroes and role models and the public’s eyes at last open to the human potential of athletes with a disability.

However, the UK’s government hard sell to our nation of both games focused on the cash returns and benefits to us all from that  huge tax payer investment and that of licensed business partner funding  and government justified that investment by a predicted so called “ legacy”  where attitudes to disability would be changed forever and grass roots young  citizens of all abilities would be inspired and empowered to take up sport and lead more active and fulfilled longer lives.

As with the conventional games, the real legacy of the Paralympics was never seen in terms of improvements in grass roots and other sport and improved overall growth in participation in sport yet  banked as clear profit by the major global corporate sponsors as the cynical amongst us pretty much expected in a major even seen as what it is , a sacred cash cow.

Ironically. while bandwagon jumping global corporate sponsors like junk food pimping McDonalds and Coca Cola banked incredible returns for their capital investment, (seeing the games as a route to healthy option credibility by being associated with healthy living as their only remedy when the facts point to their products  actually being globally life-threatening)  this nation is still  actually waiting for the promised pay-off, that so called “legacy” to be delivered.  To this day, most sport in the UK, able-bodied  and disability sport, (and the vast majority of their young aspiring sportsmen and women) still very much are either self-funded or rely on Nationally Lottery and other charity funding.

It is clearly a fallacy to presume that without his prosthetics the athlete would be as fearless and confident as he clealry was on track with those blades

It is clearly a fallacy to presume that without his prosthetics the athlete would be as fearless and confident as he clealry was on track with those blades

Participation in sport at grass roots, both able boded sport and disability sport, has not seen  significant increase in active participation since London 2012 ,  quite the reverse , whilst increased childhood and adult obesity through lack of exercise remains a growing national health problem costing the nation billions and young girls especially have not been so inspired.

The expected “sea”  change in public attitudes to disability  has actually been, as it always has been, tokenistic and very modest where hate crimes against vulnerable people with disabilities, especially visible disabilities  in the UK are actually on the rise post 2012  and we see , also , a catalogue of often violent abuse of the disabled and vulnerable  people in residential  homes by their “carers”  and also the sexual abuse of such people in care situations.

Those famous blades are actually very basic and rather crudely engineered.

Those famous blades are actually very basic and rather crudely engineered.

Full independence , access all areas and maximum fulfilment of potential for people with a disability is implied as a given  for the public in the outstanding achievements of our Paralympians but the reality on the ground, especially at grass roots, is actually very different and the most  internationally recognisable  Paralympian Oscar Pistorius  and the most recent tragic events in his life really bring home the fallacy in the public consciousness that things for people living with a disability have actually changed that much and neither  have attitudes changed and neither in fact has the discrimination all people with a disability and additional handicaps still have to live with 24/7 and so on the basis of his treatment at trial has Oscar Pistorius.  Oscar himself off the track is of course susceptible to all those normal handicaps that face the disabled everyday because his famous blades only guaranteed him mastery on a running track and nowhere else and were designed to be context effective and not for general daywear.

Oscar on his "Ossur" running prosthetics.

Oscar on his “Ossur” running prosthetics.

The Icelandic  company  Össur ( named after innovative philanthropist prosthetics pioneer Össur Kristinsson, who developed a silicone interface for prosthetic sockets) dropped,  like a ton of bricks, their brand ambassador Oscar Pistorius as soon as the announcement of Reeva’s death at the hands of their single biggest global marketing asset  athlete  broke and up till then such a nice little no risk huge earner for them .

When we take a hard look at their actual  “blades” which empowered Pistorius, solely on the track, to achieve his potential , they are incredibly  crudely engineered , bent carbon fibre crudities with a few bolts and yet mega expensive and I am sure like all other adaptive aids for the disabled grossly over priced and of course have a limited shelf life so buying one set is not an option.

everyday disability aids are still relatively crude & the best are out of the price range of many ordinary people.

everyday disability aids are still relatively crude & the best are out of the price range of many ordinary people.

With amputees, at grass roots, I, for example , have a friend, ex military, who like  all people with disabilities in the UK, appear to have a benevolent National Health Service who provide prosthetics, wheelchairs and other adaptive aids as a right and free of charge  but those free aids do not reflect modern technological front runners and essentially people are given wheelbarrows in lieu of decent chairs and relatively crude prosthetics a kind of wooden peg leg equivalents and if you want anything better you will have to buy in from the private sector who consistently take advantage of their market by charging excessively in my view putting independence and reaching full potential still out of reach for the majority by virtue of cost.


The ultimate irony in this fake post 2012 Paralympic games utopia is the abusive dismissal of the athlete Oscar Pistorius, once disability and disability sports most influential ambassador , as falsely assumed to have been trying to buy his way out of responsibility for his girlfriend’s tragic death ( which he has never ever actually denied being responsible for but also that it was the result of a tragic accident and not as now deemed murder with intent) and exhausting his supply of sponsorship  capital and prize money and selling also his luxury home.

oscar pistorius at start

This in order to fund a defence, yes true ,  few in the RSA could actually afford and yet the state chose to make this a central court show trial, for the first time ever  in front of live TV cameras very much against the defence’s wishes, and  where similar cases  are normally tried and go almost unnoticed in regional courts and so cost much less ( and also typically allow plea bargaining and offer non-custodial suspended sentences as the norm and in fact still do.)

Pistorius  has also been accused , especially in the relatively anonymous and unaccountable , relatively poorly informed court of social media-led public opinion, of cynically capitalising on his disability as a defence when of course reference to his disability at the time of the actual accident, (when he was not on his blades but handicapped by being on  his so called stumps ) was actually made not by him , but his defence team. This  not because the athlete was looking for excuses to avoid responsibility but because it clearly must have been a vital factor in increasing his fear and sense of even greater than normal vulnerability when tackling head on a perceived lethal threat in his own home in the early hours of Valentine’s day 2013.

No similar case has ever been subject to an appeal by the Prosecution to a higher court and then successfully led to a high court judge’s legitimate verdict being overturned and re-invented as murder based on a pretext of a matter of law (rather than more justly based on evidential facts that judge based her decisions on.) Courts at all levels in the RSA and elsewhere are not accustomed to defendant’s with a disability accused of serious crimes before them and in general lack the knowledge or understanding to allow mitigation based on disability factors which affect people’s action.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) dismissed the athlete’s disability as a causal factor helping justify  his actions as they did factual evidence from the actual trial that he was an overly anxious man when it came to personal safety and security but not a vain aggressive unbalanced man capable of violent abuse and wilful slaughter of his tragic girlfriend.

The SCA were disability discriminatory and  essentially re-tried Pistorius as if he acted as the London 2012 track superman but with x ray vision, and  still oozing confidence ?  while grovelling on the bedroom  floor in the early hours having been rudely awakened and on his stumps facing what was to him a  very real and potentially life threatening threat.  Yet , the so called learned judges had the temerity to presume a superhuman level of self control to be able  stand back, in a split second , make a risk assessment, weigh up all the possible outcomes if he used his gun, do a quick cost benefit analysis of possible consequences, and an assessment of whether he was acting lawfully.

They also expected him to have used clairvoyant powers to judge whether anyone was actually behind the closed door or actually posed any real threat and this in a relatively secure gated apartment complex albeit in the most dangerous province in RSA in terms of violent gun killings and a city with ever spiralling violent crime and home intrusion statistics. Oscar, the first Paralympian to run officially against able bodied athlete’s in the Olympics, and acquitted himself well there but in effect the SCA in the way they came to their conclusion is like judging Oscar and pitting him as an equal against  Usain Bolt and reasonably expecting him to match or even trump him.

Find me on Twitter at johncoxonmedia and use the #OscarPistorius twitter tag to find the many supportive factual references I have made to the athlete’s case but also find a growing album of fact based “photocards” I have produced to help raise awareness of the athlete’s case and treatment in law which i have found most unsatisfactory.  My Facebook 





Posted in disability, editorial, opinion, Parasport on January 24th, 2016 by John Coxon


It is hard to believe that we are approaching the third anniversary of the awful moment in the early hours of Valentine’s day 2013, when it dawned on the athlete Oscar  Pistorius that behind the bathroom door, through which he had fired four shots, his beloved Reeva was lying fatally wounded rather than an intruder he’d though it was and the  moments after when he broke the door down with a cricket bat and in vain sought to help save her.

What followed was  an extraordinary series of events which saw him tried in front of the world’s television cameras ( spuriously, the first time a trial in South Africa had ever been televised ) and convicted not of murder but manslaughter, served a year in prison and then to find himself, when beginning an unprecedented four years under house arrest to have had a superior court reverse the trial Judge’s lawful verdict and he now awaits re-sentencing for murder and facing a possible though to my  mind a totally unjust maximum of fifteen years in prison.


Similar cases have always led to suspended sentences and usually non custodial ones so Pistorius was treated differently and discriminated against and likely because of his fame and the opportunity for the state to use him as a high profile example and for the system to be seen as impartial and more robust than iit actual or hs been  in other cases.

Where all previous similar cases have resulted in suspended sentences it is not surprising that the athlete’s defence have appealed this extraordinary about-turn and partly on the basis that the SAC’s decision was unjust and that the panel of judges  discriminated against the athlete , acted outside their jurisdiction and completely ignored factual trial evidence  which included his disability being a  causal factor in the extent of his fear he and his girlfriend were under threat from an intruder.

Despite paralympians achieving extraordinary things they are far from always so empowered in everyday life away from the stadium

Despite paralympians achieving extraordinary things they are far from always so empowered in everyday life away from the stadium

I am writing this article on the basis of looking at events through the perspective of an expert in the education of young adults with a disability because I believe that both the courts and many members of the public are deliberately or inadvertently discriminating, in their opinion of those events based on understandable but unacceptable ignorance of the realities that face people, including the athlete, living with a disability.

I do not personally think people in general have been able to stand in the athlete’s shoes and view those events from the perspective I want to examine his case from  and to the best of my knowledge no journalist previously  has addressed these issues  in any detail. I hope with better insight those reading this will, like me, empathise rather than condemn the athlete for the tragic mistake he made.

My Credentials  :  I am a retired specialist educator of some twenty six years experience teaching and mentoring a huge number of young adults with the complete spectrum of disabilities, ( including single and double leg amputees) medical conditions and associated learning difficulties as well as expert in associated psychological , social and emotional problems associated with those difficulties and long experience of  assessing and planning provision to deal with that range of problems and report, inform and liaise with a wide range of professional outside agencies . I worked in an innovative school where for example it was one of the first in the country to make physical education fully inclusive.

I also spent fifteen years previously assessing, reporting on and making daily classroom provision for young people with extreme emotional and behavioural problems and anger management issues manifested at times in challenging verbally and physically aggressive  behaviour and I can state, from that expert perspective right away ,that Oscar Pistorius does not have   personality characteristics beyond those of a normal balanced person.


During my career which began in the mid-seventies, when previously education for such kids was often tokenistic and people with physical disabilities were rarely seen in public let alone  expected to be able to do much, kids with special needs, via a change in the law , got the right to have their individual needs “statemented” in a legally binding document and proper educational provision specific to those difficulties became a right so each child could for the first time achieve their full potential. Public awareness of those rights has not kept pace with those changes in the law.


However, and despite equal rights legislation, the common often sentimentally patronising attitude especially to kids with visible disabilities, actually continued and still does today. Technological advances, especially in the last two decades, have led to a range of improved adaptive aids for education and everyday living giving those with physical disabilities greater mobility and functionality but attitudes have not changed at the same rate meaning the general public still lack awareness of disability issues and their actual impact on individuals.

uk disability syatistics

Through basic public ignorance of disability and its everyday realities  , a common criticism is that Oscar to the world,  in public,  focused on being  able, not disabled  and that therefore he can’t on the one hand expect parity and yet then when it  suits, suddenly  use disability as a defence in court.

He never in fact has or did pull the disability card – his defence, not himself, quite reasonably, used the valid argument that his disability led him to excessively anxious about his personal security and also made him feel more vulnerable that night when he believed an intruder was a dangerous threat to himself and his loved one whom he thought he was defending.  It is actually very painful for him to “walk” any distance at all on “stumps” or be steady on them and fleeing from a perceived threat could never be an option because of this.

Johannesburg’s Richmark Sentinel reported earlier today that Paralympic hero, Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee, also known as “Blade Runner”, has been found not guilty of common assault. Pistorius, who earlier this year delighted the crowds at Manchester’s Sport City during the BT Paralympic World Cup had been arrested and held in a police cell over night this September and later charged with common assault for allegedly causing a minor leg injury sustained by a 19 year old female house guest when he slammed the door to prevent her re-entering his home when she and her boyfriend had earlier been asked to leave following a domestic fight between the couple. The allegation provoked widespread disbelief that Pistorius was capable of deliberately harming anyone and certainly those fans with whom he spent so much time after his race chatting effortlessly and signing autographs and patiently posing for photographs with them would have been more than surprised had there been any other outcome to the case.

Oscar did not consciously champion disability rights it was a role and expectation thrust upon him. He merely tried to assert his own rights against, for example, the athletics establishment and others saw him as champion of those rights and gave him that mantel which he never actually sought. Essentially Oscar sought equal rights, to have the right to run against able bodied athletes in addition to those with similar disabilities.

He was also forced to challenge the fallacy that his blades actually gave him an advantage.  (The dynamics of starting on blades makes it impossible to get the even push to make the most of the starting sequence from blocks until the athlete is upright and in his stride and when he has made adjustments to his balance as he rises into his running stride.)

oscar pistorius at start

But it is a common misconception to presume that off the track, (off those specialised blades that merely enable him to run fast on tracks) on his cruder day legs he would be equally confident, problem free, mobile and independent. He was and is subject to the same prejudices and day to day barriers that affect all those with similar physical disabilities and who are also subject to being patronised and even threatened with verbal and physical abuse and face a range of hurdles that able bodied people do not have to face. These are realities that the general public know little about  and are not actually aware of unless someone in their family or peer group has a physical disability.

Added to that are the daily unseen special hygiene routines vital to keeping the amputees “stumps” free from sores and infection plus countless visits to medical specialists and prosthetics specialists for adjustments, replacements and refitting.  Living with lower limb amputation is never without anxiety or associated risks like the threat of a heart attack , venous thrombosis (blood clots ) , wound infection, pneumonia , “stump and “phantom limb” pain   and psychological problems.


One of the downsides of the raised profile of paralympic athlete’s after 2012 especially with the public having their eyes opened to such athlete’s potential , seeing what athlete’s with disabilities could achieve in track and field, may very well  have  led to a rose-tinted view of what life is actually  like for athletes outside the stadium  in their everyday lives which are always far more complicated than is generally known and there still are a range of barriers they have to overcome where the  everyday world is not disability friendly say, for example ,  in terms of access and actually special equipment and higher tech prosthetics  are  always very expensive , and free items like prosthetics and wheelchairs provided by the NHS do not meet the  same standard as those  available through the private sector.

Enabling technology is excessively expensive with companies exploiting the disabled with pricing that disadvantages the majority.

Enabling technology is excessively expensive with companies exploiting the disabled with pricing that disadvantages the majority.


We know that Oscar had been threatened and assaulted on a couple of occasions but it a falsehood that he was temperamental, inclined to anger quickly, “macho”, provocative and pugilistic and was in fact gentle humble and one who always sought to avoid confrontations. There is also no evidence to support the false claim that he was abusive or aggressive to women and it is on record that his relationship with Reeva was healthy, normal and loving.

oscar pistorius character

(There is only one incident on record which wrongly suggested a physical assault on a woman, a person who was actually drunk and tried to push past the athlete when she tried to re-enter his house party having  been previously asked to leave with her partner for their loud and aggressive drunken behaviour and he merely prevented her from coming in and later , no doubt whatsoever with a  view to compensation, she filed a complaint alleging he assaulted her ,an allegation that was dismissed as malicious)

Oscar, throughout his childhood and adult life never pulled the “disability card” and took immediate responsibility for accidentally causing Reeva’s tragic death. The psychologists at the clinic the prosecution insisted he be assessed by during the actual trial and indeed an expert sports psychologist who worked with him , both attested to the fact that Oscar was almost obsessively anxious about his own personal security and this is why he kept a firearm by his bedside even though he lived in a relatively secure gated apartment which had security guards who were likely not armed and of course  nowhere is entirely secure from determined intruders.


When ordinary people see Oscar , they no doubt see either a tall confident smiling character  doing extraordinary things on the  track and perhaps have seen photos of him in social situations where his every day prosthetics would be hidden under his normal clothes. Thus I believe people find it hard to get that image of him out of their minds and to imagine him, woken in the early hours , hearing a noise fearing intruders and having to face  that perceived threat on his “stumps” with no option to flee.

But , how could he possibly be expected to be that confident powerful man and not feel additionally vulnerable when facing a threat when shuffling on the floor.

On his day legs Oscar is 1.84 metres (just over six feet tall) on his “stumps”  1.53 metres ( Five feet)  but he simply cannot make more than a few stumbling steps on those stumps without falling over and would have had to move towards that threat as if sitting  and impossible to think that didn’t make him feel very vulnerable.

Remember that the State originally falsely claimed that Oscar was wearing his prosthetics when he fired the fatal shots and had to retract that when the forensic evidence disproved that convenient presumption. (The original claim that he was on his artificial legs of course was to help back up the view that the killing was deliberate and that he was not disadvantaged by not having his legs on)

In the vulnerable position him found himself surely if he actually wilfully intended to kill an intruder, even from that low position on the ground,  he would  have fired upwards having  reasonably presumed that person was standing  yet the forensic evidence points to the fact that the athlete fired in a downward trajectory suggesting an intent to wound and disable rather than to kill. It is in my view quite possible that shooting at the door he might simply and instinctively have fired off those rounds to frighten the supposed intruder into submission)

We should also be aware of human innate biology and physiology with regard to the “fight or flight” reflex where , under threat, neuro-physiological changes occur in the body and brain, essentially bypassing the action inhibiting reasoning area of the brain and setting of a surge in chemical production of hormones to increase heart rate and other changes to empower a person to flee or challenge a threat more effectively and a person has no control over this reflex. This would of course explain why the athlete struggled to accurately account for and  rationalise in court  what was going through his mind as he moved towards the perceived threat and acted how he did and under such fear  and stress I would have been impossible to stand back  do a risk assessment and take the time to decide whether his actions were lawful and justified. This renders farcical the interpretation placed on is actions by the SCA and their dogged over zealous use of the “dolus eventualis” hypothesis , only a part of which they actually applied in their summary decision making.

It is fatuous to suggest that when a person is governed purely and involuntarily by the instinct to survive they will have ,beforehand, assessed whether lethal force was justified or have foreseen and reconciled themselves to the likelihood that their actions could be fatal where hesitation would very likely be fatal.


Incidentally when we talk about Oscar’s “stumps”  I think people presume a neat rounded amputation just below the knee   but this is not the case since he was born with the congenital absence of the fibula  bone and at eleven months old his legs were amputated  halfway between his knees and ankles hence  his “stumps” include part of the remaining tibia, the thicker of the two lower leg bones making stable standing or walking on them virtually impossible.


This ignorance of the realities of living with a disability is not only common to the general public but also the police, the prosecution , the courts and the Judges that ruled at the Supreme Appeal Court because  rarely if at all will they have experience of an amputee before  them charged with a killing and hence  it is one of the reasons the SCA totally ignored disability as a factor in Oscar feeling the need to use a lethal weapon to defend himself , this regardless of the fact that his perception of an intruder was to prove to be a tragic  fatal error because clearly that fear of threat was real to him when he awoke took the action he felt he had no choice but to take. Of course accepting  that Oscar’s fear was real and genuine plus accepting his disability was as a crucial factor in leading to additional vulnerability and fear is hugely inconvenient where the SCA were determined to side with the prosecution which surely leads to the inevitable conclusion that this is why they ignored both factors and other factual evidence presented at the trial and this surely is discrimination.

The SCA also conveniently ignored  factual evidence from the actual trial related to expert advice from the state’s own clinical psychology experts which attested to the athlete’s heightened anxiety levels and exaggerated  fears about personal safety  because of his disability  and to him not fitting the profile of a violent murderer or one in a controlling and tempestuous relationship  and  abusive to women as the prosecution attempted falsely to portray him  as. To find the athlete guilty of murder the SCA  had to discriminate and ignore the actual facts.


Phobias are the irrationally exaggerated fear of often quite harmless things like spiders, water and confined spaces but to the victims of such phobias their fear is very real.

I strongly suggest that Oscar Pistorius’s fear that night of a possible armed intruder was completely  rational  in a province that in relation to the staggering number of gun deaths annually (2700 last year ) and rising  is the most dangerous in the country and the city of Pretoria where there are hundreds of gun related crimes including armed and violent home invasions and where  so many citizen-home owners  there and elsewhere across the country lawfully own guns, seen as a necessity for personal security.

If so many ordinary South African citizens own guns for fear of a home intrusion how  could a famous , visibly wealthy man ( a more likely target of crime I’d suggest) be expected to be immune from such a fear and have that fear dismissed as unjustified  and why would the fact that he has a disability not have increased his sense of vulnerability if attacked or threatened ?

CONCLUSION In conclusion I firmly maintain that the athlete’s fear of an intruder was rational and understandable in those circumstance and that this fear was compounded by the obvious additional vulnerability which would be experienced by a double amputee faced a real or perceived threat while at a severe disadvantage without his prosthetics, facts that the Supreme Court of Appeal chose to totally dismiss. (This is, of course , in  no way to make light of the tragic death of Reeva Steenkamp and yet it would be a very hard person indeed who denied that the athlete’s ongoing  grief and remorse  was and remains entirely genuine and  is not self pity. )

I take the view (as does the athlete’s defence in its appeal to the Constitutional Court) , that, as a result of deliberate or institutionally inadvertent disability  discrimination and the SCA  exceeding its powers and jurisdiction , the athlete has been unjustly branded a murderer , an undeserved label  rarely if ever applied to a person who kills an intruder in self-defence and neither is harsh custodial sentencing  the norm.


Live broadcast of a trial was unprecedented and therefore discriminatory and very much agianst the wishes of the defence and wss prejucial in a number of ways and for example would never have been tolerated by any UK court as it is believed to be prejudicial and unfair.

Live broadcast of a trial was unprecedented and therefore discriminatory and very much against the wishes of the defence and was prejudicial in a number of ways and for example would never have been tolerated by any UK court as it is believed to be prejudicial and unfair.

Throughout the months from that fateful day in February 2013  public opinion has been and remains staunchly  polarised  and Oscar Pistorius ( and indeed his family to an extent ) have been  victim to the “court of public opinion” and  discrimination based on fixed views  so often, it appears to me, unsupported by actual fact from the evidence and manifested with a range of abusive libellous personal attacks on social media and a range and large number  of sick  jokes mocking his disability and indeed personal on line attacks on the athlete’s supporters .

This has no doubt been  fuelled  by  a stream of sensationalising  media headlines  during the trial, irresponsible media speculation and about for example misreporting  the athlete demanding special treatment in prison   and indeed promoting falsehoods about his character. Some online amateur  critics have  even promoted the obscene suggestion that the athlete is trying to “buy”  his freedom and dismissing his disability as if he was relying on it as some sort of hollow excuse.

Finally, it is to her credit that the trial honourable Judge Thokozile Masipa accepted the athlete’s version of events and that his exaggerated sense of vulnerability was a factor in the action he took even though , based on previous similar cases, the custodial sentence she determined was relatively harsh, possibly influenced in that regard by the broadcasting of the trial and it seems to defy belief that the higher court  found her acting in error taking that view and insulting her judgement an undermining her authority.

I find it very hard to accept that ordinary people would dismiss the fact that a man at additional disadvantage, as the result of being without his legs, in that situation, rich or not, famous or not , facing what he thought was a threatening situation  cannot accept that it is entirely rational that his fear would be even deeper than that of an able bodied person.

A popular song from the early 1970s contains the lines “Before you criticise and abuse walk a mile in my shoes “ and  I do believe if people could put themselves in the position which Oscar had to deal with that night, and were aware of the everyday realities for people living with disabilities including increased anxiety, they would not take such a dismissive view of his actions and be unimpressed with the falsehood that he is a murderer.

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