Police set up specialist team to investigate threats to MPs

A specialist police team set up to investigate crimes against MPs has begun inquiries into more than 50 complaints since the murder of Jo Cox.

Jo Cox was killed outside her constituency surgery. Picture: PA
Jo Cox was killed outside her constituency surgery. Picture: PA

Cases of hate-filled messages, harassment and criminal damage were reported to the Metropolitan Police’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 under Freedom of Information laws, comes amid mounting concern that MPs are facing unprecedented levels of abuse online.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

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

Labour MP Rachael Maskell received threats from people with far-right views and had a picture of a body with a severed head mailed to her after Ms Cox’s murder.

Ms Maskell said: “It is the vile views of individuals who at one point indicated that I should be next to be murdered. 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. ”

Ms Maskell, who was first elected to Parliament 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 to be in Parliament … And this is another layer, another factor..”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, said that while armed police patrol the corridors of Westminster, MPs have become targets on sites like Twitter. He said: “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.”

But he said: “I don’t see any desire on the part of members to lock themselves away and sit behind bullet proof glass to conduct their surgeries.”