Labour councillor feared for life after online hate and death threats
A councillor delivered an emotional testimony on the shocking abuse and attacks she has faced while serving her community.
Cllr Samantha Townsend has told how the targeted campaigns of name calling, fat-shaming and constant bullying of her character, soon turned into physical threats when she campaigned in her local area for the Labour Party.
The threats later became so severe that she feared for her life.
The Shildon councillor was speaking at a Durham County Council meeting on Wednesday where members agreed to endorse the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Debate Not Hate campaign.
“I was told to my face that I shall be dragged out into the street and shot,” cllr Townsend said.
“I have been both in public, near my children and online accused of being a paedophile, and I have been subjected to a two year long period of online harassment where a member of our community generated between eight and 10 Twitter accounts in order to harass me and other female Labour politicians.
“So, this is very real. I had people who were at that point afraid to let me walk home alone because of the abuse I was receiving.”
Cllr Townsend receiving a round of applause for her bravery in sharing her story at the meeting, as more councillor shared their own worrying experiences of abuse.
A total of seven in 10 councillors reported experiencing abuse or intimidation in the last year according to the LGA's 2022 councillor census.
Conservative councillor Michelle Walton, of Delves Lane, Consett, says an ‘atrocious’ hate-mail letter about her was posted to her neighbours after she was elected in 2022.
She said: “The impact that had on my family, my son, his school; because they had mentioned things in this letter that obviously affected all the kids at school. It was really scary and ended up with Special Branch involved due to the potential impact that this might have had.
“Thankfully, nothing further has happened, and I was very well supported by those around us at the time. But there is no doubt it put a lot of fear in me.”
Crook councillor Patricia Jopling said she was locked inside a house while canvassing and feared for her safety while receiving ‘a tirade of abuse’.
“It was the most frightening experience. I thought: ‘is he going to kill me?’ because he was that angry,” she added.
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The LGA said the increasing level of abuse and intimidation aimed at local politicians is preventing elected members from representing the communities they serve, deterring individuals from standing for election and undermining local democracy.
Its campaign aims to raise public awareness of the role of councillors in their communities, encourage healthy debate and improve the responses and support for local politicians facing abuse and intimidation.