Belfast Telegraph

Abuse of female MPs commonplace, says DUP's Little-Pengelly after Anna Soubry abuse

By Mark Bain

The DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly said she fears female MPs are being targeted with a largely unchecked culture of "vile abuse" on social media platforms now spilling over to into face to face exchanges.

Her comments come after Conservative pro-EU MP Anna Soubry hit out at Brexit protesters after being called a "Nazi" by a mob outside Parliament while involved in live television interviews on Monday on College Green.

The South Belfast MP, who has previously been the victim of online trolls, said: "There is an important balance to be struck.

"Members of Parliament are public representatives and must be accessible. No one should ever be made to fear for their safety or be subjected to the kind of outrageous vile abuse directed at Anna Soubry.

"This type of vile abuse has developed and increased on social media and online platforms.

"This has now increasingly spilled out into face to face exchanges. This abuse due to differing politics views online or in person is completely unacceptable."

Ms Little-Pengelly said "society must send out a clear message that such intimidation and abuse are unacceptable".

"Unfortunately it appears to be borne out of a culture where the proper exchange of opinions and debate is not valued," she said.

"Instead too many people exist in an 'echo chamber' of their own views and they simply cannot cope when exposed to someone with a different opinion to their own.

"It is unfortunately true to say that female MPs do appear to be particularly targeted for abuse, whether that is online or in person.

"I support the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, not least because it was mandated by one of the largest exercises in democracy the UK has ever seen. I fundamentally disagree with Anna Soubry's interpretation of Brexit but she has an absolute right to put forward her views without fear of attack or intimidation."

At least 115 MPs have called on police to improve their response to abusive protesters outside Parliament and the Metropolitan Police has said it is ready to "deal robustly" with any instances of criminal harassment.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said the force was assessing whether any crimes had been committed, following a third-party report of a public order offence on College Green, opposite the Houses of Parliament.

He said Scotland Yard will be "enhancing the policing presence" in the run-up to next week's vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

James Goddard, an online activist who was filmed calling Ms Soubry a Nazi, said he had been "silenced" on Facebook after his profile appeared to disappear.

A Facebook spokesman said: "We have removed James Goddard's Facebook pages and groups for violating our policies on hate speech.

"We will not tolerate hate speech on Facebook which creates an environment of intimidation and which may provoke real-world violence."

A link to his PayPal account, where supporters are encouraged to "support (his) work" also failed to load yesterday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Commons Speaker John Bercow has said he is "keeping a close eye on events" as he voiced concerns over incidents involving "aggressive and threatening behaviour" towards MPs. Mr Bercow told the Commons he was "concerned" about "what seems to be a pattern of protest" targeted in particular at women, adding that female MPs and female journalists had been subjected to "aggressive protest and what many would regard as harassment".

Mr Bercow's comments came following a point of order by Tory MP Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) raising concerns about Brexit protests and the personal safety of MPs.

Mr Bercow said: "I have indeed, I must tell the House, been made aware of recent incidents involving aggressive and threatening behaviour towards members and others by assorted protesters who have donned the yellow vests used in France.

"And when I referred a moment ago to recent incidents, I am more specifically referring to reports I've had of incidents that have taken place today."

He added: "The House authorities are not technically responsible for the safety of members off the estate. That is and remains a matter for the Metropolitan Police, but naturally I take this issue very seriously and so I am sure do the police who have been made very well aware of our concerns."

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