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

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Han­nah Sum­mers

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.”

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