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Police probe vile online abuse blaming UUP 's Jenny Palmer for SDLP success in Lagan Valley

By Allan Preston

Online threats against former Ulster Unionist MLA Jenny Palmer have been condemned across the political spectrum as "cowardly intimidation".

Mrs Palmer received a series of abusive messages on her Facebook account from a man claiming to be a former UDR member.

Last week she lost her seat in Lagan Valley, while the SDLP's Pat Catney was elected.

The DUP's Brenda Hale also lost her seat, leaving the constituency with two DUP seats and one for the UUP, Alliance and SDLP.

Mrs Palmer said the comments left her feeling "vulnerable".

She added that she had informed the police, and refused to be intimidated by the abuse.

"I have no intention of deserting the people of Lagan Valley. There is still much work to be done," she said.

The rants directed at her on the Facebook page warn her and her councillor husband John to leave the area.

Written in near-illiterate English, one of the messages says that life at her home in the Hillsborough area "might end".

It also describes her as a "Lundy".

Former DUP MLA Jonathan Craig, who lost his seat in Lagan Valley in 2016, voiced his support on Facebook, saying his staff had been threatened with parcel bombs in the past.

"It is a difficult time for anyone when they lose their job, it is no different for a politician," he wrote.

"I know personally how Jenny Palmer feels at present - it was my turn 10 months ago and it is not a pleasant experience. You have very difficult problems to deal with ie losing staff, winding up the work you have been involved in and closing your office.

"No one either needs or deserves threats of any kind against them, it is reprehensible, wrong and illegal.

"I recall the time I was informed that I and my staff were in danger of receiving parcel bombs due to my membership of the Policing Board.

"It was a very stressful time for all concerned.

"My thoughts are with Jenny and John, who I still hold in high regard."

Adding his support, UUP MP Danny Kinahan branded the abuse "cowardly intimidation".

"The comments made against Jenny and her husband on social media are beneath contempt and I unreservedly condemn them. I can assure John and Jenny of our full support," he said.

Lagan Valley Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said the "vile threats" could not be tolerated.

"No one should have to put up with online trolling and abuse," he said.

"Jenny stood for re-election on a peaceful platform, while those behind these messages only aim to distract from our democratic process."

The incident is just the latest example of threats and trolling of politicians around the election period.

In January a police inquiry was launched after online death threats were made against the DUP leader Arlene Foster. Former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called the threats "shameful".

In February pregnant North Belfast SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon was targeted when loyalists mailed a bullet to her in the post.

Her party colleague Daniel McCrossan MLA also complained of threatening behaviour towards him and a female party volunteer while out canvassing.

On Sunday Alliance leader Naomi Long blocked a Facebook user who had repeatedly insulted her appearance.

"I rarely block anyone on my page, but I'll make an exception in this case," she wrote. "I'm a public representative, not a punch bag for the terminally obnoxious."

The DUP's Emma Little Pengelly, who lost her seat in South Belfast, also complained about online abuse and has locked her Twitter account.

"The Twitter trolling has increased since the election," she said. "I was calling people out on that and I won't be facilitating that kind of thing on my Twitter any further."

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