Cornwall councillors have spoken out about the abuse they face, including death threats, assaults, threats to their children and homophobic bullying.
Ratifying the progress of a working group looking into bullying, intimidation and harassment, many councillors spoke for the first time in public about the effect on themselves and their families of abuse from members of the public.
At an annual meeting of Cornwall Council in Truro this week members agreed to support the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Debate not Hate campaign and recommended that councillors have the option to ask for their home addresses to not be published as part of their Register of Interest form.
During the debate a number of councillors stood up to speak about their own, often shocking, experiences, including council leader Linda Taylor who said she was apprehensive about speaking out due to concerns for her daughters. A number of councillors felt they could and should have received more support from the council.
The issue was originally debated at a meeting last month which heard an emotive speech from Andrew Long (Callington & St Dominic, Mebyon Kernow / Green group) about how he had been bullied and the effect it had on him. The meeting also heard how one unnamed councillor had to lock their children in their home following a threat.
Cllr Barry Jordan (Camelford & Boscastle, Conservative) opened the discussion by saying he’d been the victim of abuse over the last few years and the effect it had had on his wife. “[She] actually picked up one of the letters addressed to me which was very nasty and ended up in the hands of the police. We need to be looking at the effect on families as well, because councillors have families and they can also suffer from this.”
Cllr Kate Ewert (Rame Peninsula & St Germans, Labour) spoke of her her own terrifying ordeal: “I want to back up what Cllr Jordan said on the effect on families. I recently received death threats from somebody who was very unwell, directed at me and my family. It was incredibly terrifying. I’d like to thank the police for all the support they gave me. Unfortunately, the support within the council was a little bit less I would say. I had to keep on scrabbling around to try and get support.
“I’ve also had threats made to my children in school. That was about dogs on beaches, which was incredibly terrifying. I don’t know whether I’m more prone to it as I’m a woman in politics. It’s really not acceptable.”
A councillor who has spoken openly in the past about being bullied and harassed, then outlined how much of the abuse is aimed at female councillors.
Cllr Dulcie Tudor (Threemilestone & Chacewater, Non-aligned) said: “I want to thank the members of the standards committee for attempting to get to grips with this very big and very thorny issue.”
She added that research carried out by the LGA produced data that showed “while seven in ten councillors reported experiencing abuse and intimidation last year, which is bad enough, women get it worse. It’s there in black and white – misogyny plays a significant part in harassment and abuse as every female involved in local politics at every level already knows”.
Quoting from the Debate Not Hate report, Cllr Tudor said: “We know some men, not all men but many men don’t like women. Some men, not all men but many men don’t like women and, I’ll go as far as to say, hate women who have a voice. Some men, not all men but many men want to silence those women and some men, not all men but many men then try to use the council’s own complaints procedure.” She added: “They’re a very convenient tool to go about silencing women.
“I’d just wanted to say that it’s part of our responsibility to help and support fellow councillors when we can see that they’re being bullied even if we disagree with their political stance.
Cllr John Martin suggested that every councillor should have the mobile phone number of a police officer who knows them as a direct contact.
Council leader Linda Taylor (St Ives East, Lelant & Carbis Bay, Conservative) then spoke: “I’m a little bit reluctant to stand up here and thank the police for the action they’ve taken in relation to the incident that I’ve had to experience. The CPS are actually charging the individual. I absolutely welcome this debate because it’s not acceptable regardless of what gender you are that certain people think it’s acceptable to have a go at you because you’re in a public arena and are only wanting to do the right thing for your community.
“The reason I say I’m a bit apprehensive about highlighting what’s happened to me is the concerns for my family, particularly my two daughters.”
Cllr Michael Bunney (St Mewan & Grampound, Mebyon Kernow/Green Group) then spoke of his own experience: “We do need to be aware that bullying and intimidation often does impact and target certain characteristics and certain groups. I myself have been a target of homophobic bullying and graffiti. People target people like us because we’re strong, because we speak up and we are proud and we care about our communities. But even those of us who are strong can be fundamentally knocked by abuse and intimidation.”
Cllr Thalia Marrington (Mousehole, Newlyn & St Buryan, Liberal Democrats), who recently spoke out about being a victim of abuse, said: “From personal experience, I’ve had dealings with the council that perhaps haven’t been the best, with dismissive comments like ‘these things tend to blow over’ about an ongoing situation from May 2021, a week after I was elected. I was trying to get help [from the council] but it wasn’t forthcoming.”
She asked if those councillors who were speaking out about their own experiences could be involved in a working group to tackle abuse.
Ending the debate, the council’s portfolio holder for economy Louis Gardner (Newquay Central & Pentire, Conservative) spoke of his own shocking ordeal. He questioned why councillors had to pay for their own legal costs.
He told fellow members: “Many of you will know that I have gone through two years of my own experience of this with an individual who decided to target me, my family, my friends, everyone associated with me. He turned up at my house on a number of occasions when my children were playing in the garden.
“All of that resulted a few months ago in a serious assault on two of my friends when I was in a building within my division, which culminated in a court case two weeks ago when an individual was convicted of two counts of ABH and received a custodial sentence, which was suspended. As a result of that there are now restraining orders in place.
“I share the experiences of some of my fellow councillors that the council machine probably wasn’t as supportive as it could have been. I think two practical measures would make a real difference. Can we through occupational health offer some kind of psychological help to councillors, we would do it for employees, why do we not do it for councillors?
“The second thing is I went down a private legal route to get my restraining order which was of substantial financial cost. Some help with that through the council’s legal services would have been a real bonus. I don’t see why some councillors, in some cases, have to be thousands of pounds into this because of the council work they do.”