North Northants councillors share stories of death threats and physical attacks as they back 'debate not hate' campaign

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Last week’s meeting also heard of threats to blow up council buildings

North Northamptonshire Council has backed a campaign, known as ‘debate not hate’, aimed at preventing abuse and intimidation towards members of local authorities.

Councillors shared their own stories of death threats, physical attacks and even threats to blow up council buildings at a meeting at Corby Cube on Thursday (January 25).

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This comes after an investigation shared by the Local Government Authority (LGA) found that 88 per cent of councillors who responded to their survey experienced abuse, with a further 98 per cent of them facing abuse on multiple occasions.

The meeting took place at Corby Cube last weekThe meeting took place at Corby Cube last week
The meeting took place at Corby Cube last week

Leader of North Northamptonshire Council, Cllr Jason Smithers, said the figures presented in the LGA report would be ‘shocking’ to some, but wouldn’t come as a surprise to many of the councillors sat in the chamber.

Cllr Andy Mercer, a ward member for Rushden South, stood to share his own experience with abuse with fellow councillors at the meeting.

He said: “I’ve had things thrown at me from the visitor’s gallery, I’ve chaired meetings where there were death threats to the councillors so we’ve had to arrange police protection.

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“I’ve been aware of a threat to blow up one of the council buildings I’ve been working in; I’ve had people threaten me and intimidate me and visit my house.

“We shouldn’t have to do this. Hate shouldn’t be there at all. It damages local communities and it damages democracy.

“I’m afraid we need to try and bring back that community spirit into local government because otherwise, sometime soon, we’re going to see a tragedy.”

Cllr Mark Pengelly, representative for the Lloyds ward in Corby, said that he had been attacked during his time as a elected member.

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He suggested that proper training was needed for councillors on how to protect themselves.

Cllr Pengelly said: “What we’ve seen in the last few years is two MPs, Jo Cox and David Amess, get murdered carrying out that same role trying to improve people’s lives.

“We are all in danger when we go out there.

"There’s got to be more protection for us as councillors.”

The report also brought forward recommendations to keep council staff safer.

This includes the council taking a more active responsibility in supporting staff’s mental health, police being more consistent in their response to abuse and threats made to councillors, elected officials being able to keep their home address private, and the creation of a working group to constantly review and tackle issues with abuse.

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Cllr Smithers said: “We may sometimes have differing views and perspectives but we are united in doing the best for North Northamptonshire.

“We have a great opportunity as one of the largest unitary authorities in the country to show leadership in signing this statement and support our local government family.

“All too often those in public light receive hate and abuse when carrying out their roles.

"We’re all human, we’re no different.”

The campaign was unanimously supported by the council, with the LGA recommendations being accepted in principle.

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