MPs’ Staff Demand Self-Defence Training In Wake Of David Amess’ Murder

Others are asking for a refresher on terror training, panic alarms and mental health support.
A tribute to Sir David Amess MP at Parliament Square, London.
A tribute to Sir David Amess MP at Parliament Square, London.
SOPA Images via Getty Images

Staff working for MPs across the political divide are calling for self-defence training in the wake of David Amess’s murder.

Advisers, researchers and constituency staff working for Conservative and Labour MPs have spoken to HuffPost UK about the abuse they face every single day.

Some said they often step-in to protect their MPs in hostile confrontations - with office staff left to field much of the abusive correspondence.

Most spoke anonymously, with one pleading with the public to recognise the extent of the abuse they face. Many are aged 20-30 and for some it is their first full-time job after university.

An adviser working with a female Tory MP who experiences a lot of threats said: “We probably get 400 emails a day in total and in that every day there will be something abusive.

“Staffers are very protective over their member of parliament. You almost become like another family member and a lot of the abuse the MPs won’t see.

“Some of it is horrible, rape threats, death threats, just awful name-calling and then the ‘I don’t know how you live with yourself’. To see that on a daily basis is difficult for people.”

Members of Parliament walk from the Houses of Parliament to attend a service to pay tribute to Amess
Members of Parliament walk from the Houses of Parliament to attend a service to pay tribute to Amess
JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images

The experienced member of staff, who has worked with a number of politicians, added: “Celebrities get hounded but they don’t have to meet face-to-face with the people who send that abuse.

“I have examples of the face-to-face where, to be honest, some defence training would have been helpful. For so many staffers - you push yourself in front. You do it because you care.

“It would be great for staff to have some anti-terror training, some physical training would be a bloody good idea.

“The majority of MPs don’t always want a police presence, it shouldn’t be needed. I would love to know where to punch somebody in the neck to desist quickly.”

They said some constituency staff do not feel “safe or comfortable” dealing with the public because of the intimidation, adding: “When people are working in Westminster we are surrounded by guards but in the constituency it’s not like that. They do feel intimidated. I think a bit more training has to happen.”

Another woman working for a female Labour MP also backed the call for self-defence classes, saying: “It’s been pretty awful...but I’m feeling better about things now.

“Only the other month my MP had a man verbally attacking her when I was with her. The police didn’t take it seriously - I was traumatised.”

Floral tributes for Sir David Amess, outside the entrance to the Houses of Parliament.
Floral tributes for Sir David Amess, outside the entrance to the Houses of Parliament.
Barcroft Media via Getty Images

They made the comments after Southend West MP David Amess was fatally stabbed as he held a constituency surgery on Friday last week.

One assistant working for a Tory MP said everyone wanted to get back to the job and “won’t be deterred”.

But they added: “There is an appetite for self defence training, and many staffers have said that more sessions should be provided and sooner.

“I think a refresh of security and terror training should be provided - it is my experience that I did not receive either once I joined parliament and no written information either.

“I think if we want them we should also be given panic alarms.”

A researcher working for Labour MPs said she had to deal with a lot of abuse from constituents over Brexit. She has had constituency offices vandalised and her MPs harassed in public.

She added: “We also got an email which was a threat to bomb our office - that got reported to the police. It was intensely scary for the women working in our constituency office, who were often alone. There were also days where I felt vulnerable in parliament - particularly when there were Brexit protests outside.

“The mood in parliament is very somber - people are grieving and they’re also fearful. It’s a horrible reminder of how targeted our bosses are and how we can be caught in the crossfire.”

She also backed security or terror training, adding: “It’s an increasing part of our job to be aware of security threats but we have no way of dealing with them if they arise. We also need to have more of a security presence at constituency surgeries and public events.”

Another staffer working for a male Labour MP said everyone was still in shock and they had assumed after the murder of Jo Cox it would not happen again.

“I think it’s hard for the MPs to say but the vilification of them means all communications are fair game and they just have to take the abuse,” they added.

“We all really worry about [our MP] and the effect the abuse has on him, but you can’t protect them from it.

“I feel worse for the constituency staff, sadly I think the days of an open office like a shop front people can drop into are now well gone.

“I wouldn’t feel right asking any of our staff to put themselves in that position. My heart goes out to the Tory staffers it really does, I can’t believe we are back here again.”

Home secretary Priti Patel has said she is considering offering police protection for MPs at their constituency surgeries and has commissioned a review to “close the gaps” in security.

The speaker of the house of commons Lindsay Hoyle has also said he is reviewing MPs’ security “at pace”.

A UK parliament spokesperson said: “The ability for members and members staff to perform their parliamentary duties safely both on and off the estate is fundamental to our democracy.

“We work closely with the Met’s parliamentary liaison and investigations team, and through them, local police forces, who are responsible for the security of MPs and their staff away from the parliamentary estate, to ensure MPs are kept as safe as possible and are able to perform their duties.

“We cannot comment on MPs’ security arrangements or advice for obvious reasons, but these are kept under continuous review.”

Separately, all members of the parliamentary community have access to a range of services - including a confidential 24/7 support and counselling service.


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