The amount of online abuse local politicians face is so vicious it could lead to someone taking their own life, it has been warned.

The shocking revelation came as it was revealed Sandwell Council has recently been forced take out a court injunction to protect elected members. 

News of the legal move came in a meeting of  borough’s ethical standards and member development committee which heard elected members often suffered face-to-face abuse.

And in one terrifying incident a councillor’s car was forced off the road.

 

The frightening intimidation was revealed as safety measures for local politicians at constituent surgeries was discussed.

The committee heard the number of reported incidents in Sandwell over the last six months amounted to a ‘handful.’

But saying a female councillor’s car was allegedly forced of the road, Cllr Elaine Giles said abuse so commonplace many members didn’t bother to report it.

Cllr Peter Hughes said the amount of personal abuse on tweets, Facebook posting and blogs is so relentless, he feared it could lead to suicide.

Explaining he has suffered threats in social situations when he had been forced to leave for his own safety, he added:  “There is a lot more pressure on us from social media.

 

"At the end of the day, if your mental health suffers as a result of intensive bullying or harassment on social media that is just as bad as being hit.

“Someone could end up committing suicide because of the amount of pressure they have on social media and its got to be taken into account.”

The committee also learned that following online threats against two unnamed councillors, the council had obtained an injunction preventing their abuser from approaching them either directly or through social media.

The threats were so serious that before the court order was granted, the council paid wardens to provide security at the members’ surgeries to ensure their safety.

But Cllr Paul Saunders criticised the decision to withdraw them once the injunction was granted, saying there was a danger the abuser could ignore the court's decision.

Surjit Tour,  the director of law and governance, said the council needed to establish how serious the actual threat to councillors is and the perceived fear of abuse, and the need for councillors to remain available to residents raising legitimate concerns.

“Within that,” he said, “we may get some serious incidents but they can be few and far between, such as the incidents that have been spoken of.

“Whatever mitigation we put in place must be of a proportional measure and there is a balance between councillor’s safety and members wanting to be accessible.”

The committee agreed to a further report outlining recommendations and options to reduce the threat elected members face.

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