UP to 150 orange-clad people, many of them with learning disabilities, took part in a march and rally in Barnstaple on Friday to draw attention to Hate and Mate Crime.

The rally, part of Learning Disability Week, highlighted to the public just how much abuse some vulnerable people experience.

Hate crime includes attacks on ethnic, vulnerable and minority groups while mate crimes involve people posing as friends to the vulnerable, but who take advantage of them in a variety of ways.

Rally organiser Rod Landman, manager of ARC Safety Net, a national three-year project set up to increase awareness, said that Barnstaple was one of two areas chosen for pilot events because mate crime had been identified in the town - friendships used to abuse or exploit people with learning difficulties.

"We are aware of cases in North Devon where people with disabilities have been sexually abused or ripped off by their so-called friends, even persuading people to change their wills. A common one is where people living on their own are visited by 'friends' who drink their victim's beer, use their phone, empty their fridge and then leave them to clear up. The tricky thing is that people with learning disabilities often don't realise they are being taken advantage of. It's down to people's real friends and neighbours to see what is going on and report it to the police."

Despite rain on the day they had reached their initial target of marchers, he said. They had also had a stand in Green Lanes and attracted 500 names on a petition.