COUNCILLORS have spoken of being stalked and “viciously” threatened for their political work with some saying social media has changed people’s behaviour.
Existing and former members of local authorities in Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch say they have had dogs set on them during elections and that abuse is commonplace, writes Josh Wright of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
All 76 councillors on BCP Council were contacted asking whether they had experienced abuse as a councillor.
Of the 15 who responded, all but two said they had been on the receiving end of this sort of behaviour.
And six said incidents were so serious they had reported them to police.
The comments follow the recent revelation by council leader Cllr Vikki Slade that she had faced death threats during her time as a councillor and as a parliamentary candidate.
Current cabinet member and mayor of Christchurch Cllr Lesley Dedman said behaviour had worsened since she first became involved with councils in 2007.
“It has got more tetchy over the years, people getting ruder and more demanding, recently there has been abusive shouting at councillors at residents’ association meetings,” she said.
Conservative councillor Karen Rampton said that due to threats she had had an alarm system installed at the home she shares with former councillor John Rampton.
“I had a stalker when I was elected in 2008, he had written to a few councillors but it gradually got more serious,” she said. “He would come to my place of work and stare through the window – police were involved with that.
“There was a lot of online abuse and comments, some of them were threatening to the point where we alerted police and they were carrying out patrols near our house.”
When the bedroom tax was first introduced in 2011, Conservative councillors in Poole were also the targets of activists who cordoned off their homes with police tape and left packages filled with blood-soaked cotton buds and tissue.
Cllr Phil Stanley-Watts said someone had set a dog on him during this year’s election and that people seemed to have “lost the ability to be gracious and respectful”.
Ex-Christchurch councillor Lisle Smith said abuse that may have been directed at parties in the past was now being personalised.
Cllr Andy Hadley said “compromise, rational debate and tolerance of other views” had been challenged by social media.
“It’s important that people recognise that councillors and other politicians are also ordinary people,” he said. “Our powers to change things are limited, and for quite a number of us, this is time juggled on top of a day job.”
However, Cllr Beverley Dunlop said elected officials should expect a degree of reaction.
“Putting oneself in the public gaze comes with the risk of abuse,” she said. “Seriously, if you can’t stand the heat leave the kitchen.”
Richard Jones, the council’s head of democratic services, said support is provided to councillors who face abuse and that advice is given during the induction programme all members go through.
“We would always encourage any councillor who receives abuse or threatening and intimidating behaviour to report it to the appropriate authorities,” he said.
In July the council’s standards committee considered a report which looked at improving training for councillors on communications and personal safety.