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Huge increase in violent threats to MPs endangers democracy

Saturday August 17 2019

Candles are lit around floral tributes in Parliament Square central London on June 17, 2016 in remembrance of Labour MP Jo Cox who was killed on a street in Birstall on June 16. PHOTO | DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS | AF

Candles are lit around floral tributes in Parliament Square central London on June 17, 2016 in remembrance of Labour MP Jo Cox who was killed on a street in Birstall on June 16. PHOTO | DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS | AFP 

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I have argued for some time that Britain is becoming an ever nastier nation, a far cry from the polite and restrained society in which I grew up. Well, maybe I’m an old fogey, but new evidence has emerged which I believe supports my case.

A wide-ranging survey by the BBC discovered that Members of Parliament are being subjected to abuse and threats so vile that some have said they are too frightened to run for office again. Knowing that an MP, Jo Cox, was stabbed to death in 2016, who can blame them?


Hiding behind online anonymity, vicious people have sent MPs photos of decapitated bodies, smeared dog mess on their doors, filmed them surreptitiously in the supermarket, threatened to nail-bomb a constituency office and attacked party workers’ cars.

Of 172 MPs who responded to the BBC survey, 139 said they or their staff had faced abuse in the past year and 60 per cent of them sought the help of police.

Separate analysis by the University of Sheffield showed that the black Labour MP, David Lammy, had received the most abuse of any MP on Twitter, although on average Conservative MPs received more abuse than Labour Members.


Scottish National Party MP Lisa Cameron said that after receiving death threats and photos of headless corpses, she put in extra security at her home so her children could play safely in the garden, and Labour MP John Mann said his wife and daughter had both been threatened with rape.

Last May, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick told a Commons committee that threats to MPs were at “unprecedented levels.”

Deputy Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said the BBC’s findings were only the tip of the iceberg. Security complaints sent to him by MPs reached the same level in the first six weeks of 2019 as they used to in a year.

He said, “When MPs turn around to me and say, ‘I’m not going to stand again, I don’t feel safe, I don’t need this,’ we are in danger of losing democracy in this country.”

* * *

There is a new type of lottery here known as Set For Life. It awards the winner not a huge, one-time sum but a huge sum – £10,000 – every month for 30 years.

Dean Weymes, 24, from Peterborough, was playing for the first time online when his Lucky Dip ticket matched five main numbers. “It was incredible,” he said. He checked the numbers on his phone while at work for Amazon. Next day he quit. Asked to give a reason, he wrote, “Won lottery/retired.”

 Dean said the first thing he would do would be to find top-class care for his severely autistic brother. Next would be chasing his dream of becoming a screenwriter.

* * *

This column reported last week how a 17-year-old youth picked up a six-year-old boy and threw him off a balcony of the Tate Modern art gallery in London. The boy, a French visitor, landed 100 feet below and sustained fractures of his spine and limbs and a bleed on the brain.

Newspaper reports since then have claimed that the youth was a schizophrenia patient who slipped away from two minders who were supposed to accompany him everywhere.

A former carer who once worked with the teenager, told The Sun tabloid, “He is one of the most difficult mental patients I ever encountered. He is about five feet ten inches tall and gets angry when he is denied something he wants.

 “He is also very intelligent. I watched an edition of a TV quiz show with him and he got all the answers right.”

 At a 22-minute administration hearing last Thursday, the youth confirmed his date of birth, address and British nationality and was remanded in custody on a charge of attempted murder. He was ordered to undergo a psychiatric assessment before going on trial, probably next year.

 There was no update on the French boy’s condition, which was originally given as “critical but stable.” Meanwhile, a crowd-funding appeal for his family raised more than £15,000 in 24 hours.

* * *

A husband called the police to report that his wife had gone missing and this dialogue ensued:

 Police: Height? Husband: Not sure, maybe a bit over five feet. Weight? Can’t be precise, not slim though not really fat. Colour of eyes? I never really noticed. Colour of hair? It changes, brown I think, or no, blonde. What was she wearing? A skirt, as I recall, or was it shorts? What kind of car did she go in? She went in my truck. What kind of truck was it? A 2016 brilliant diesel grey pearlcoat Ram Limited 4X4 with 6.4 l Hemi V8 engine, LED lighting, backup and front camera, Moose hide leather heated and cooled seats, climate controlled air conditioning…

Police: Take it easy, sir, we’ll find your truck.