LONDON – The specialist police unit created to investigate hate crimes against MPs has dealt with more than 100 complaints in its first year of being active.
The Metropolitan Police’s parliamentary liaison and investigations team, which was set up in August 2016 following the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, has looked into 71 complaints of “malicious communication”, which includes “electronic communication.”
The unit has also dealt with 15 thefts, seven allegations of criminal damage, five reports of harassment and four of racially aggravated harassment from August 2016 and July 2017, according to the Guardian newspaper.
MPs will have a general debate about the “abuse and intimidation of candidates and the public during the General Election campaign,” on Thursday afternoon, and several have spoken out about the harassment they have received.
Labour MP Rachel Maskell told the Guardian: “That is about one in six MPs and I would want to know how these figures compare to the rest of society. It does show the vulnerability of people in public life who stand up to represent their communities.”
Maskell, the MP for York Central, said: “For me, day-to-day abuse is low. But I have had far-right groups sending me death threats following the death of Jo Cox, and the police were absolutely excellent at addressing this.
“We have to make sure that we have the right legislation so everyone is protected … Certainly from talking to colleagues a lot of the abuse has been online, not exclusively but it seems like most of it takes place with people behind screens.”
Prime Minister Theresa May ordered an investigation into the abuse received by candidates during the general election, saying she was “horrified” by stories of “intimidation, bullying and harassment.”
The committee on standards in public life will hear evidence from MPs and the police on Thursday as part of its report, which is due to be published before Christmas.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said she had received abuse on Twitter, which was “really quite frightening.”
Abbott said: “When I say abuse it’s not people saying ‘I disagree with you about nationalising the railways’, it’s people calling you a ‘n***** bitch’, it’s people threatening acid attacks, it’s rape, it’s death threats.”
Conservative MP Simon Hart said in a past debate that politicians have been targeted for their sexuality, religious beliefs and social background by members of the public who wanted to force “them out of politics altogether”.
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson said that the numbers of reports were “shocking but sadly not surprising.”
He said: “A number of our colleagues have been threatened with violent retribution if they voted in a particular way … we cannot let intimidation undermine our democracy in this way. Harassment and bullying on social media is not unique to MPs. These figures show why big platforms like Twitter and Instagram have got to get their house in order.”
A spokesperson for the committee on standards in public life said: “Hearing reports of intimidation experienced by parliamentary candidates, MPs and others, it is clear that too many individuals in public life have had experiences that nobody should have to go through.”