Police are investigating after a female Labour MP received “very explicit death threats” online.
Louise Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heeley, told parliament she was targeted after calling for a debate on the banning of the far-right group Britain First, which may have inspired the murder of her colleague, Jo Cox.
She told the Guardian that such threats were becoming commonplace among female MPs, noting that Cox’s successor in parliament, Tracy Brabin, had received “horrific levels” of abuse.
Speaking in a Commons debate on Wednesday night, Haigh said: “I just called for the house to be given evidence and to look at the details of the group’s paramilitary activity and anti-democratic behaviour. As a result of that and of how the media covered my call, I have received very explicit death threats. I have been called a traitor and a Muslim lover.
“On Friday, an individual went through every one of my YouTube videos and said he would not rest until I was murdered. If that is not evidence that Britain First should be proscribed as a terrorist organisation, I am not sure what is.”
Haigh, who at 29 is the youngest Labour MP in the House of Commons, said she was disappointed with the initial reaction from police when she reported the abuse.
She said she first told a special police unit situated in parliament designed to deal with such investigations. “Their reaction was: ‘South Yorkshire police (SYP) need to deal with this.’ We reported it to SYP and the initial reaction was pretty dismissive: ‘It is really difficult to find people on the internet.’”
The MP said SYP only seemed to start actively investigating after she told the media about the threats, though they were quick to install panic alarms in her Sheffield home and office, and to provide her with uniformed and undercover protection while going about constituency business over the weekend. The force has now put in a request to Google for IP information, she said.
“I didn’t think they were going to act until the media attention. I don’t know what it would take to make them act. The same group [Britain First] inspired the murder of Jo, one force over [the border in West Yorkshire],” she said.
Haigh said she shrugged off the threats at first. She said: “My initial reaction was to treat it as fairly usual: I get really abusive messages all the time. But reflecting on how obsessive the individual seemed, and the specific obvious threats of murdering me, it did really affect me. I didn’t really feel safe until I came down to London on Monday.
“SYP was really good at offering resources to protect me, had cars following me at roving surgery and undercover police at events. But I would really rather they put resources into investigating.”
Following the parliamentary debate, Ben Wallace, the minister of state for security at the Home Office, said he would intervene, Haigh added.
Being abused was now part and parcel of life as a female politician in the UK, she warned: “For women it’s definitely depressingly familiar. Speaking to male colleagues they just don’t seem to receive the same level or magnitude of abuse I get on a fairly regular basis. But it’s nothing compared with some colleagues, like Jess Phillips [MP for Birmingham Yardley]. I know Tracy Brabin has had horrific levels. We do become accustomed to it and we shouldn’t. I worry that it will put some women off coming into politics.”
Brabin told the Guardian she had received abuse on social media in response to her efforts to champion diversity in her constituency of Batley and Spen and had asked the members of her local Labour party to respond by retweeting the positive things on her Twitter page. She has also had abuse by post, which one of her researchers has spoken to the police in the House of Commons about.
Brabin said she would support her fellow women MPs however they chose to respond to such abuse, but said she was trying not to let any of it get to her and had not made any formal complaints to the police. “Everybody deals with it in their own way, but I particularly cannot afford to let it affect what I do because I wouldn’t get out of bed,” she said.