Police contact MPs to advise on security after Jo Cox killing

Houses Of Parliament

Police forces are contacting MPs around the country to advise them on their security following the killing of Jo Cox.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said the advice was to help politicians to take appropriate measures to deal with any risks or threats they faced.

The intervention came as parliamentary authorities prepared for discussions about the “serious work” needed to improve security for MPs in the wake of Cox’s death. Westminster sources told the Guardian that meetings would take place over the next few days to see what more could be done to support politicians.

The chair of the home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz, said he wanted a review of security, revealing that a number of MPs had been speaking to police officers in their constituencies to ask what more they could do to protect themselves.

Chris Grayling, the leader of the House of Commons, said: “Obviously we all have to learn the lessons from this tragedy and do everything we can to protect MPs. For now, all our attention is on Jo Cox’s family.”

Meanwhile, the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who shared an office with Cox at Westminster, said he had cause to report a threat of violence towards him to the police on Thursday – hours before the murder of his political colleague and friend.

Kinnock said he reported the threat of violence, which he received via email, to South Wales police. It was part of a what he said was a tsunami of abuse he received following an article in the Daily Mail which accused his family of having the “greediest snouts in the EU trough”.

Kinnock said his policy was always to report threats of violence to the police. “I think MPs should always report to the police when there’s a threat of violence and the police should try to find out who that person is and get a sense of whether there really is a credible threat. Then they can do something about it. If you don’t report it at all, they can’t do anything about it,” he said.

Many MPs receive threats and abuse via online media – something some choose to report to police, while others brush aside.

It was also reported that a female MP had raised concerns about security with David Cameron in May last year, warning of a possible fatality if action was not taken.

No 10 confirmed that Cameron responded to the MP “and voiced deep concern”. In addition, a No 10 spokesman said, Theresa May, the home secretary had written to the MP to echo the prime minister’s words as well as contacting the chief constable of the MP’s local police force. The chief whip of the MP’s party also met the politician.

David James, co-founder of a threat assessment group that is supported by the Home Office and Metropolitan police, said politicians needed training to recognise cases of concern.

James, who started the Fixed Threat Assessment Centre more than a decade ago, said there were “warning behaviours” that MPs needed to be aware of, including letter-writing, door-stepping, years of complaints and protesting outside parliament.

“You can’t predict the future, but you can try to prevent things by recognising warning behaviours and evaluating and managing risk,” he said.

Harry Fletcher, director of the Digital Trust who works with victims of online threats and abuse, said a security triage system was needed in the House of Commons to help MPs assess the risk of threats.

He said: “Huge numbers of MPs are getting this kind of abuse. Some of it is very threatening indeed and I think the police have got to start prioritising the investigation of that aspect of this abuse.

“MPs need to start reporting it – many are not, they put it down as part of the job, but it is not. House of Commons security needs to use a triage system to examine the treat, to see if it contains any of the red flags – threats of violence, threats of sexual offences, if its an obsessive fixated individual, all those things.”

Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, has made police reports several times about violent and sexualised threats she has received. Two weeks ago, she made a further report to West Midlands police after receiving threats of violence. In the past, she has spoken of receiving 600 rape threats in one day after joining a campaign headed by MP Yvette Cooper to end sexist bullying online.

On Thursday, as the news of the murder of her friend and political colleague came through, Phillips appealed for the misogynistic violence she had received to stop. “Just for one day, perhaps this misogyny could just let up. My beautiful friend was murdered today,” she wrote.

A spokesman for the NPCC said MPs were being advised to reassess their personal security measures following the murder of Cox and police were offering advice on appropriate measures to deal with the range of security issues they faced, including at their constituency surgeries, where many have an open door policy rather than an appointment system.

“The advice is supported by a range of security measures developed by the police to support MPs, working closely with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and other partners,” said the NPCC.

“Police forces are contacting their local MPs to reiterate our advice and consider any new security concerns they may have. Officers will offer further guidance and advice where an MP requests it on a case by case basis depending on any specific threat or risk.”

In the months leading up to her murder, Cox had been subjected to threats via social media which she reported to the Met police. The communications are not linked to the subsequent attack on her. In March, a man was arrested and cautioned for malicious communications.

West Yorkshire police said on Friday they were aware of two previous unrelated incidents which culminated in Cox receiving a malicious communication of a sexual nature at her parliamentary office in Westminster. “Both incidents were investigated by the Metropolitan police service which resulted in an individual receiving an adult caution for one offence, which I can confirm is not the same person who we have in custody. The other incident remains undetected.”

In January, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority wrote to all MPs about security, explaining what types of security would be covered for politicians.

It told politicians that if they had received a specific threat or been a victim of crime then they should report that to their local police immediately.

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Sandra Laville and Anushka Asthana, for The Guardian on Friday 17th June 2016 19.05 Europe/London

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