WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REPORT CONTAINS DETAILS READERS WILL FIND OFFENSIVE AND DISTURBING

POLICE are investigating a catalogue of horrific online abuse against Nicola Sturgeon, including death threats, threats of violence and extremely offensive and sexualised insults. Extreme threats against the First Minister are so common that there is even an account on Twitter highlighting at least 150 tweets featuring threats and hate speech directed at Sturgeon.

The account, called @sturgeonabuse, says that it is “highlighting the hate, abuse, misogyny, sexism, violence and threats the Scottish FM is subjected to on a daily basis here on Twitter”.

A large number of the chilling posts came from individuals using their own names along with photos of themselves, sometimes pictured alongside partners and images of them socialising with friends or even holding small children. The Sunday Herald sought to contact all those who posted insults, a number of whom replied with abusive messages directed at the newspaper’s journalists, while some others refused to discuss their offensive remarks.

In their original posts a significant number of the online trolls said they wanted to violently or sexually assault Sturgeon, while there were others who said that they hoped the First Minister would die a brutal death.

A “Paul Addison” (@Paddison93), who is pictured drinking in a bar, posted on June 9, 2016: “I wish that c**t Sturgeon would die, just die”.

Meanwhile, a “Micky Watt” (@mickywatt), who appears in a group photo, on June 9, 2016, stated: “A f**king hate Nicola Sturgeon, wish someone would shoot the daft jock b*****d”. An “Ashley Wager” (@ashwager93) from Birmingham, who is pictured with a woman, tweets, on June 6, 2016 that: “Nicola Sturgeon needs a kick up the c**t”.

There is more violent intent expressed towards the First Minister from a “Steph Drysdale” (@stephdrysdale), whose account also features her picture. She said on April 20, 2015: “If Nicola Sturgeon was in front of me I’d kick her f**king head in and probably really enjoy myself doing so.”

A tweet from an “RCH” @WoodsyOfficial, who identified himself as an entrepreneur from Leicester, on May 6, 2016 stated: “Nicole Sturgeon Does my nut in bring us some haggis u ugly s**g”. A man pictured with a young child, who calls himself “Brad” (@bradslife81), on June 9, 2016, says: “Feel sorry for the poor husband of Nicola Sturgeon. She don’t shut up and f**k me she’s proper pig ugly. Annoying f**king troll.”

However, some of the most disturbing verbal attacks focused on the miscarriage Sturgeon suffered in early 2011, when she was health secretary in Alex Salmond’s government.

A tweet from a “david anderle’pen” (@nogod4dave) on September 4, 2016, stated: “Just been blocked by Nicola “Roll out the miscarriage” Sturgeon. Can’t imagine why. Not yet woo’d!”

On the same subject, a tweet on September 4, 2016 from “Stop the PC madness” (@thewinning55) which included a picture of the late far-right, anti-immigrant Tory politician Enoch Powell, said: “I know this may be harsh, but #sturgeon has lied about so many things in the last 2 yrs should we believe her about the miscarriage? #snpout.”

A “Captain Swing” (@captswing), who describes themselves as a “Brexit winner and Patriot”, on September 5, 2016, stated: “More Sturgeon miscarriage story is horrific.. that someone had sex with wee Jimmy Crankie.” A “Jonathan Geary” (@jockysaltire), on September 7, 2016, said: “Nicola sturgeon is using her miscarriage to gain momentum for indie ref 2! Shameful and disgusting.”

There were also more racist and misogynistic postings, with a “Mac Bradley” (@MacBradley) on July 5, 2016, saying: “Nicola Sturgeon is a f**king annoying Scottish c**t like, Shurrap man can’t wait to YT all owa ya country on Thursday ya s**t.” A “Tommy Ellam” (@Ellam9), pictured with a woman and with a photo showing the football stadium at Leeds United football club, from June 26, 2016, says: “Nicola Sturgeon is an ugly s**t”.

There were more death wishes from a “Casper Johnston” (@CasperCj71), who identifies himself as a Ukip member, on January 23, 2016, saying: “the quicker that sturgeon thing is assassinated the better the f**ked up c**t and she should use Scottish £ not the rest of uks”. A Twitter user calling themself “MDE” @M16_0RA, on January 25, 2016, said: “I’d like to see Nicola Sturgeon set on fire. The Jimmy Krankie c**t.”

Last night, Police Scotland confirmed it was looking into the abusive tweets highlighted by the @sturgeonabuse Twitter account. A force spokesperson said: “Police Scotland is aware of this account and work is being undertaken around it.”

Twitter, in response to the Sunday Herald investigation, also promised to set out a package of measures aimed at cracking down on online trolling. A Twitter spokesperson said: “We’re approaching safety with a sense of urgency. As such, we will be rolling out a number of product changes in the coming days and weeks – some will be immediately visible, while others will be more targeted to specific scenarios.

“We will update you along the way and continue to test, learn and iterate on these changes to evaluate their effectiveness. You can expect to see meaningful progress in this area.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the First Minister said women MSPs had been singled out for “deeply unpleasant” online attacks.

Sturgeon’s spokesperson said: “There is an enormous amount of abusive material online aimed at prominent politicians, especially female political leaders, including the First Minister.

“This kind of activity isn’t the preserve of any side or party in political debate – it exists on all sides and is deeply unpleasant, whoever the perpetrators are and whoever the intended recipient is.

“Online abuse is a feature of social media activity across the board – it certainly isn’t restricted to politicians, or to women. But there is no excuse for it, and while it’s important people are aware of some of the worst examples, we shouldn’t give the perpetrators too much of a platform or allow their actions to detract from more important issues.”

The abuse directed at the First Minister was roundly condemned by figures across the political spectrum, who said it had no place in Scotland’s political discourse. Graeme Pearson, chief executive of the pro-UK group Scotland in Union, called for a stepping up of criminal prosecutions of the worst online abusers in light of the abuse directed at Sturgeon and others.

Pearson, a former Labour MSP who also served as a senior police officer, said: “There can be no grounds for people behaving like this.

“Police Scotland must act quickly and we must get offenders before the courts as that would be the greatest disincentive for it.

“The public should pull back from sites and not engage with them where there is abuse and there must be work done to identify those responsible. But again prosecutions are the greatest disincentive.”

Former Labour first minister Henry McLeish said the owners and organisers of social media sites such as Twitter had an obligation to examine how abusive online behaviour could be curbed.

McLeish said: “The world of politics is a tough place and people have passionate points of view. But we now have to clamp down on the mindless abuse that takes place on the internet.

“It may be a minority, but the people who own and organise social media have a responsibility to look at what they can do about this. This type of behaviour poisons our political discourse and there is no place whatsoever for abuse in modern Scotland.”

HOW THE TROLLS REACTED TO THE SUNDAY HERALD

A LARGE number of online trolls contacted by the Sunday Herald were unrepentant about their behaviour.

John Heron @Jheron7, who is pictured with a small child, and described himself as a Rangers fan, Tweeted on March 29 2016: "Nicola Sturgeon is a w***e!"

Last night, when asked to discuss his comments with the Sunday Herald, he replied: "No thanks.. she's still a wee w***e!"

There was also a Twitter feed from a troll named 'Jak', who told the Sunday Herald to "f**k off", when asked about his posting from March 4 saying: "Sturgeon wants f**king off she's a t**t".

A David Rice @DavidRice26 , who on February 2 2016, said of the First Minister, "cheeky b***h sturgeon, kick her out, scummy cow", gave a similarly abusive reply to the Sunday Herald, when asked if he regretted the Tweet,

Rice said: "Do I f**k, I'll say what I want when I want ! If you don't like it tough, anything else ?"

A Sam Holland @samhollandlcfc , who on January 8 in 2016, stated: "Wish Nicola Sturgeon would shut her horrible lesbian Scottish mouth" responded: "Do I regret it? No I can't stand her. Was it harsh though and factually incorrect. Certainly. I just hold her accountable for the downfall of the Labour Party, hence the harsh words."

Sunday Herald reporters who dealt with this article where also subjected to a catalogue of abuse on Twitter after approaching the offending trolls on the social media forum.

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