‘Threat to local democracy’: Yorkshire coast councillors express concern about intimidation and harassment

Councillors representing wards in Scarborough and Whitby have reported facing intimidation and harassment because of their work as elected councillors – and say they have been forced to take precautions as a result.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Councillors on the Yorkshire coast have said the intimidation they face is a “threat to local democracy”.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) asked all councillors in the area whether they had faced threats.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

While several said they had not been personally affected and others did not respond, many reported that they or their colleagues had faced unacceptable behaviour in person and online.

County Hall, Northallerton.Picture: LDRSCounty Hall, Northallerton.Picture: LDRS
County Hall, Northallerton.Picture: LDRS

Conservative Coun Derek Bastiman, an executive member of North Yorkshire Council, said he and his wife – who was formerly a councillor – had been threatened.

Labour Coun Rich Maw said he had to have his address removed from the council’s website following online intimidation.

It comes as the Government recently announced a £31m package to counter threats to the security of members of parliament.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Councillors said they were grateful for the support they had received from North Yorkshire Council but when approached for a comment on whether it was concerned about the intimidation members faced and what action it was taking to support them, the authority did not respond.

‘A threat to local democracy’

Coun John Ritchie said he had received letters of intimidation and threats but while he was not “personally perturbed” he did think it was “a concern and a threat to local democracy”.

The Local Government Association recently issued updated guidance regarding the safety of councillors and candidates when canvassing or campaigning.

Coun Marianne Overton, chair of the LGA’s Civility in Public Life Programme Steering Group, said that if left unaddressed, abuse and intimidation “risk forcing good councillors out of local politics altogether”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Speaking to the LDRS, she added: “Abuse and intimidation aimed at local councillors is completely unacceptable and it is deeply concerning that this is a problem that is growing.

"It is profoundly disturbing to hear of reports of councillors being harassed and intimidated while doing their job and it is also clear that some of this behaviour constitutes criminality.”

Coun Rich Maw said that he had been made to feel “vulnerable and uneasy” after facing online harassment following support he had shown to a local anti-racism rally, and he had been offered access to the council’s protection fund to supply personal alarms, such as CCTV.

Whilst he did not take up the offer of the equipment, he said he accepted advice from officials “that my address ought to be removed” from the council’s website and noted that he was “provided with an escort from the organisers of a Hope Not Hate protest to a town centre demonstration”.

Call for Government reform

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Speaking about the Government’s £31m package to improve the safety of parliamentarians, Chris Phillip MP, Minister of State at the Home Office said that “MPs, councillors, mayors and elected officials need to be able to speak and vote as their consciences and views dictate without any kind of external intimidation”

However, Coun Overton, chair of the LGA’s steering group, urged the Government to introduce legislation that would allow councils to “proactively withhold councillors’ home addresses from the public as soon as is possible.”

She said that publishing councillors’ home addresses could lead to their “personal safety being compromised and leaves councillors and their families feeling distressed and vulnerable”.

However, Coun Liz Colling said, “here on the coast, I have had no threats or intimidation directed at me”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She admitted that during the Covid-19 period, she had been contacted by “a few very angry and irate people” but she “did not feel that those attacks were personal”.

Coun Maw added that the harassment “seems to be the price to pay for putting oneself forward for local government in these increasingly polarising times”.