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Local authority considers measures to protect councillors from intimidation

28 Nov 2023 4 minute read
Denbighshire Council has drawn up measures to protect councillors from intimidation

Richard Evans, local democracy reporter

Measures to protect councillors experiencing intimidation from the public – especially on social media – have been drawn up.

At a meeting of Denbighshire Council’s democratic services committee meeting, members discussed murdered MPs Sir David Amess and Jo Cox and how a range of procedures could help support and protect councillors.

The report proposes a range of measures to deal with a “mid-level of intimidation” such as a single point of contact, a dedicated member webpage with resources about how to stay safe online, as well as a suggested script to copy and paste when suffering abuse.

Checklist

The report provides a ‘checklist’ of measures, including details of how police could be involved in more serious cases.

Councillors also heard how their details could be taken offline if needed.

Legal services manager Lisa Jones put the report together and said times had changed, explaining councillors now needed protection.

“At least once or twice a year, we do get a situation where a member has a campaign of harassment against them, and as a responsible council, we have to take that well-being seriously,” she said.

“The previous approach: well you are a member; you are not a member of staff, so we don’t have those employer duties towards you – they don’t fit anymore.

“The political stories, Jo Cox and the likes, do bring it home. It is a dangerous world out there, and you just never know.

“We know that anybody who goes into public life as a councillor fully accepts that they need a thick skin, and that they will face some level of abuse and are challenged in their communities, but where there is a targeted campaign of abuse, for example, it is actually impacting on that member’s wellbeing, potentially even their mental health in a serious way.”

Needed

Cllr Julie Matthews welcomed the report. “This is very much welcome in terms of the process and the support for members, which I think is something that we need,” she said.

“If councillors are experiencing any sort of behaviour, they know what to do. There is that checklist.”

Cllr Brian Jones, though, said members needed to be resilient.

“Certainly, if you are going to get involved in politics, tough skin has been mentioned,” he said.

“Maybe it shouldn’t be this way. But you need to have a tough skin.”

Cllr Jones said councillors should refrain from getting involved in social media spats but had to review their own behaviour to help limit instances of abuse.

He said: “The deaths of David Amess and Joe Cox, obviously, they were tragic, and when you read about these people, they appear to be nice people with not a bad bone in their bodies. It’s tragic. It shouldn’t have happened. But it did.

“Bringing it back to the local level. I think we all have to look at ourselves as individuals.

“I have got knowledge of myself, and I know the way my demeanour is.

“I’ve got a natural habit, and I’m not proud of it, of sort of winding people up, and I don’t have to speak sometimes to wind people up, so when you transfer that into the public domain, you attract negativity.

“The point I’m making is someone like me does need to look at themselves, and maybe try and temper and change the way I am, and that will probably push away some of the negative waves.

“But we are all made different, and it’ll be hard for me to do at my time of life.

“Looking at yourself and how you can conduct yourself can affect the reaction you get from the public.”

Chairing the meeting Cllr Martyn Hogg joked: “Never too old to change. Don’t give up.”


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