Saturday, 2 Mar 2024

Threats to MPs among hundreds of offences investigated by police at parliament

More than a dozen cases of malicious communications were reported to police by the House of Commons’ security team last year.

The reports follow repeated concerns about the security of MPs in Westminster and in their constituencies.

The communications have been revealed in a log of more than 350 incidents which were reported to police last year.

On October 21, two reports concerned malicious emails, with the locations being recorded respectively as ‘external’ and the Norman Shaw South buildings on the parliamentary estate.

The former incident is described as ‘concerns regarding email to MP’ and the latter as ‘threat to MP’ in the dataset released by the House of Commons. 

It’s not clear if the cases are linked in the logs for the Commons, which have been heavily redacted for law enforcement, health and safety and national security reasons.

In total, there were 14 reports of ‘malicious communications’ investigated by the Metropolitan Police last year.  

They were made via social media, phone calls and post.

MPs’ security was cast into sharp relief after the murder of Sir David Amess while he was holding a surgery in his Southend constituency in October 2021.

Ali Harbi Ali, 27, was given a whole life sentence at court the following April for fatally stabbing the veteran politician. In the aftermath of the murder, MPs came forward with accounts of abusive messaging and behaviour.

Labour MP Diane Abbott said at the time she had been a victim of ‘racialised and threatening attacks online’, including death threats.

Another MP told The Guardian that online abuse was a growing problem. The unnamed person described it as a ‘complete epidemic’ and said ‘the numbers of people in prison or facing trial for abusing or threatening MPs is huge’. Spending on security had already increased following the murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox five years earlier. 

The amount rose from £171,000 in 2015-16 to £4.2million in 2017-18, which included fitting panic buttons and improving alarms in constituency offices. 

A security scare in Westminster came in February 2022 when Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had to be bundled into a police car after being heckled by ‘Covid Freedom’ protestors outside parliament.

Earlier this month, Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones said she had been targeted after criticising misogynistic influencer Andrew Tate.  

The member for Pontypridd in Wales told the Commons ‘my own inbox and my office have been bombarded with death threats, rape threats’.

The malicious communications are among 356 incidents in the dataset, which has been released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Another report concerns an ‘extremist leaflet’ sent to an MP via social media, with the location given as the Portcullis House office building.

The same medium was used to send ‘threats’ in another case logged to Derby Gate on the northern estate. The location of one communication via email is given as ‘home address’ in the reports made by the Parliamentary Security Department. Another was messaged to a constituency office.

The incidents also included post sent to parliament, with the location of an ‘aggressive letter from constituent’ given as the central lobby in the Commons. Another was sent to the government’s Richmond House offices in Whitehall. Other reports related to phone calls.

The overall number is a sharp fall on the 1,299 incidents in 2021 – although there has since been a change in the reporting system with the Commons and Lords now recording cases separately.

Police also dealt with cases of protests, vandalism and weapons including knives in 2022, with some entries completely redacted.

A UK Parliament spokesperson said: ‘Although we cannot comment on individual cases, the safety and security of members, their staff, and all members of the parliamentary community is an absolute priority.

‘We work closely with the police to ensure members and staff are kept safe and are able to perform their duties.’

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