Police unit set up after Cox murder reveals extent of crime against MPs
Parliamentary team deals with 50 cases in half a year Complaints include death threats, theft and trolling
A specialist police squad set up after the murder of Jo Cox to investigate crimes against MPs has dealt with more than 50 complaints in its first six months.
Abusive messages and harassment as well as 13 reports of theft and four allegations of criminal damage were reported by MPs to the unit between August last year and early February.
The Met’s parliamentary liaison and investigations team received 33 reports of malicious communications during the six months, including Twitter trolling.
The figures, obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, come amid mounting concern that MPs are facing unprecedented levels of abuse online.
MPs spent nearly £640,000 last year on bolstering security for them and their staff following Cox’s murder. The Labour MP was shot and stabbed by neo-Nazi Thomas Mair on 16 June in her West Yorkshire constituency, a week before the EU referendum.
The Labour MP Rachael Maskell was targeted following her colleague’s murder when far-right trolls mailed her a picture of a body with a severed head.
She said: “It was highly unpleasant but you find your mechanisms of dealing with these things. I think I was in such shock over what happened to Jo Cox … that seemed to overwhelm everything. So, in some ways I was probably slightly removed. I was just in shock.”
Maskell, who was elected to represent York Central in 2015, said she had no idea being an MP would open her up to such “detestable” abuse. She fears the level of vitriol aimed particularly at female MPs could put other women off standing for parliament.
She said: “We already know that fewer women than men are in parliament, fewer women put themselves forward, and therefore we already have those inequalities built up for a range of reasons.
“And this is another layer, another factor. It has obviously hit across gender but there has been a particular focus on women, so I do think that is a wider concern.”
Following Cox’s murder, the Birmingham MP Jess Phillips received apparent death threats and called in a locksmith to bolster security at her home.
Phillips, who resigned from her frontbench job after losing confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, reported on Twitter that she had been sent a mocked-up picture of her death. She tweeted: “Think how my kids feel next time you mock up a picture of me dying.”
Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, said MPs were increasingly becoming targets on sites such as Twitter. “I would suspect every single member of parliament has received this abuse,” he said. “Perhaps the issue of Brexit will have been the one which will have drawn that out in recent times.
“I received a message from someone telling me ‘you should think very carefully about how you vote for the future of your family’, which I referred to the police.”
He added: “You just know [as a man] that for every abusive email I am going to get, women are probably going to get five times as many.”
While armed police patrol the corridors of Westminster, politicians are taking extra security precautions such as holding their surgeries in public places and having their offices assessed for security.
But Brake, who has been the MP for Carshalton and Wallington for 20 years, said he did not think security fears would spell the end of a politician’s personal links with their constituents.
He said: “I don’t see any desire on the part of members of parliament to lock themselves away and sit behind bulletproof glass to conduct their surgeries with their constituents.”