AN SNP MP has told of how she feared for her family’s safety after a man travelled hundreds of miles to meet her before being arrested by police.

Kirsty Blackman has spoken out about a series of harassment incidents which left her considering whether to continue in politics, but also acknowledged that such experiences are “part of the job”.

The MP for Aberdeen North said that she believes “every single MP” will have thought about whether to stay in their jobs following the 2016 murder of Jo Cox and the death of Sir David Amess last week.

Ms Blackman has spoken to The Herald on Sunday exclusively about her ordeal since being elected in 2015, hoping that it will encourage others to report abuse and to raise awareness about the daily experiences of elected politicians.

It comes after Southend MP Sir David Amess died following an attack while holding a constituency surgery on Friday, October 15.

HeraldScotland: The despicable killing of Sir David Amess has prompted discussion about how MPs are viewed

Since his death, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that the threat level against politicians in the UK was now classed as “substantial” and said she was in talks with the police and parliamentary authorities about what measures to take to further protect MPs.

She also urged politicians not to discuss security measures publicly as it could compromise their own safety.

Ms Blackman said the death of Sir David had shocked everyone in Parliament, and admitted that following the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox she had changed her own behaviour, and was still “moderating” her behaviour today.

She explained: “I don’t post my location or advertise where I am going to be, for example.

“That is one thing I definitely have changed. I used to advertise where my constituency surgeries would be but

since the murder of Jo Cox I stopped doing that.”

Despite being a councillor and working for MSPs in the past, Ms Blackman said she did not experience direct threats and abuse until she became an MP in 2015 but had known they happened regularly.


First incident

 

THE first incident she had to report to the police came in 2016 when a constituent was unhappy with the way a particular problem had been dealt with.

Ms Blackman explained: “We had been working with this man, and he was angry that I hadn’t been able to assist him with his problem in the way that he wanted me to.

“He said if I didn’t [do what he wanted] then he was going to take action against me personally, and I probably don’t want to add any more than that but it was a threat of physical violence because I hadn’t dealt with this case in the way he wanted me to, or I hadn’t got the results he wanted.”

The MP contacted the police and the man was given a non-harassment order by a judge stopping him from contacting her or her office again.

A second similar incident came the following year, when another irate constituent came to the MP’s office.

“Of course you have people who can get angry, or who are at the end of the line with something and are frustrated that they haven’t been helped,” the MP explained.

“Usually, though, these people are not angry with me personally – they are angry with the situation.

“A lot of what me and my team do is de-escalation, so we try and calm people down and help them.

“However, in this case, the man was far past the point of de-escalation. He came into the office screaming and swearing, and again the police had to be contacted. He was prosecuted and given a non-harassment order.”


Email escalation

 

IN one particularly frightening incident in 2019, Ms Blackman explained that a man living in England had been contacting her office regularly by email, but the communication began to escalate.

She explained: “Initially they had sent an email asking about how to apply for housing in Aberdeen. We will always respond to constituents first, and then if we have time we will respond to other queries. This wasn’t an unreasonable request.

“But then his emails became very strange and he was then sending emails you know, a few times a week … it was all the time.

“He said he was going to drive up to Aberdeen but his car broke down and he had to travel by other means.

“It never crossed my mind though that it was something somebody would actually do, to come to Aberdeen from the south of England.

“Then he said things like he wanted to take me to a hairdresser and cut my hair. It was very strange, and quite personal, and uncomfortable.”

Ms Blackman had alerted the police to the increasingly strange emails and thought nothing more of the incident until the SNP conference of 2019, when she received a phonecall.

She explained: “I was at the conference, so were my children, and I got a call from the police saying he had travelled to Aberdeen and that they had picked him up off the train. I couldn’t believe it. I was really scared. I was at conference, the kids were at conference with me. I was supposed to be speaking to someone and I couldn’t, I had to just go and hide in a corner basically.

“On the upside, I was getting a plane to London that night, with the kids, so I was able to get away. But it was really scary.”


Strong support

 

AFTER the incident, Ms Blackman said she spent several weeks feeling “wobbly” and vulnerable, but always received strong support from local police officers. The man was ultimately also given a non-harassment order, banning him from coming near the MP’s office or home, or contacting her.

Asked if the SNP had supported her through the incidents, Ms Blackman said: “I don’t think the party should do anything about it. The police are doing stuff about it, the Commons staff are supporting me with it. I don’t think the party has the responsibility, in my head, that some people think it has to provide me with support. They can’t fix this, nor would I expect them to.”

It comes after fellow MP Joanna Cherry lashed out at the SNP, claiming the party had failed to support her when she received threats and a man was prosecuted for abusing her online.

Until now, Ms Blackman said she has not spoken publicly about what she has been through as she feared the impact it would have on her young children.

However, following the death of Sir David Amess, she said she wanted the public to be more aware of the amount and type of abuse that politicians receive on a regular basis.

She explained that “most” of her colleagues have received similar threats. However, many choose not to speak about what has happened to them.

“Firstly, you don’t want to be exposing security weaknesses but also it’s not a nice thing to talk about,” she said, adding: “I think now, given the context of what has happened with Sir David Amess, it is useful for the public to have a better understanding of what MPs go through. I actually think there are many incidents that happen that don’t get reported to the police – but they should.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions this week, Sir Keir Starmer urged Boris Johnson to ensure that the upcoming online Harms Bill would be strengthened to crack down on hatred and extremism online, and could ensure that chief executives of social media firms could be prosecuted if they fail to remove harmful content.


‘Tough sentences’

 

WHILE not giving any assurances on the prosecution of company bosses, the Prime Minister said the Government would “have criminal sanctions with tough sentences for those who are responsible for allowing this foul content to permeate the internet”.

Ms Blackman, however, said she believes anonymity online should not be removed, as it can provide a safe platform for people to discuss issues they would not feel comfortable talking about if they were to do so under their own names.

Asked what should be done to tackle the rising amount of extremist and abusive material online, the MP said social media companies had to improve, and suggested if they do not they should be given hefty fines.

She said: “Since I have become an MP I have noticed the rise in abuse online. I think if companies were given big fines, rather than prosecuting their CEOs, it could work to force them to take action.

“I also think it would help if politicians were more mindful of what they are posting online, if they are being critical of others.

“It’s not to say they can’t be critical, but when you have such a large profile it can be easy to start a pile-on of someone, even if you don’t mean to.

“That can then trigger abuse.”