Following the murder of Sir David Amess on Friday, there has been much discussion about the level of security for MPs and their staff. Amess was the second parliamentarian to be murdered in five years while out meeting constituents, following the assassination of Jo Cox in 2016, the attack on Stephen Timms MP in 2010 and the death of Andy Pennington, assistant to Nigel Jones MP, at his constituency office in 2000. Not for nothing did the security budget for MPs spiral from £170,576 in 2015/16 to £3.5 million in 2018/19.
And while much of the debate so far has focused on abuse targeted at elected representatives, their staff in Westminster and constituency offices also face numerous threats, trolls and attacks. As Tom Tugendhat MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, pointed out: 'The abuse is so often actually aimed at MP’s staff. People who have just turned up at work to help in the community, solve problems, and pull things together. Many of us get many 100s of emails and messages a day so we need help filtering. Those staff bear the brunt of it.'
Now Steerpike has uncovered figures about the threats being faced by MPs and their staff during recent months. Between April 2020 and April 2021, the Metropolitan Police recorded 52 offences of letters or messages being sent to addresses in Parliament with the 'intent to cause distress or anxiety' – an average of one a week. A separate six cases of harassment were recorded while the Met also recorded one case of a 'course of conduct in breach of Sec 1(1) which amounts to stalking.'
A Freedom of Information request found that there were four instances of public disorder, nine cases of 'public fear, alarm or distress' and some 23 assaults involving the police officers who guard the parliamentary estate. It was, of course, just four years ago that PC Keith Palmer was stabbed to death outside the gates of the Palace of Westminster. Needless to say, these figures only relate to the Met's records in London, meaning the figures could be even higher when one includes constituency offices across the country.
In recent days, parliamentary staffers have got in touch with Mr S to say that local police forces have been ringing round to check on their security concerns or posting officers to man their local surgeries on Friday. Let's hope such measures are sufficient to deter such attacks in future.