Squad probing anti-MP crimes handle 53 complaints in half-year after Jo Cox died

Published: Monday 20th March 2017 by The News Editor

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A specialist police team set up to investigate crimes against MPs has probed more than 50 complaints in the six months after the murder of Jo Cox.

Cases of hate-filled messages, harassment and criminal damage were reported to the Met’s Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team between last August until early February this year.

The squad received 33 reports of malicious communications – which can include Twitter trolling – 13 reports of theft, three reports of harassment and four allegations of criminal damage.

The figures, obtained by the Press Association using the Freedom of Information Act, comes amid mounting concern that MPs are facing unprecedented levels of abuse online.

Late last year, it emerged that nearly £640,000 was spent on bolstering security for MPs in the wake of the killing of Ms Cox, who was shot and stabbed by neo-Nazi Thomas Mair on June 16, just days before the EU referendum.

Labour MP Rachael Maskell (York Central) received threats from people with far-right views and had a picture of a body with a severed head mailed to her in the wake of her colleague’s murder.

She told the Press Association: “It is the vile views of individuals who at one point indicated that I should be next to be murdered after Jo Cox.

“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 – her family were very much in the forefront of my mind – that seemed to overwhelm everything. So, in some ways I was probably slightly removed. I was just in shock.”

Ms Maskell, who was elected to Parliament in 2015, said she had no idea being an MP would open her up to such “detestable” abuse.

And 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 to be in Parliament, 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.”

Tom Brake, the Lib Dem chief whip, said that while armed police patrol the corridors of Westminster, MPs have become targets on sites like Twitter.

He said: “I would suspect every single member of Parliament has received this abuse. 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.

“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.”

Politicians are taking extra security precautions such as holding their surgeries in public places and having their offices assessed by police.

But Mr Brake, who has been the MP for Carshalton and Wallington for 20 years, said he does not think security fears will 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 bullet proof glass to conduct their surgeries with their constituents.

“I value the constituency link, I think it is one of the features of the UK Parliament which, frankly, makes being a member of Parliament worthwhile.”

Published: Monday 20th March 2017 by The News Editor

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