Gainsborough councillor endures 'months of harassment' from member of public

An elected councillor was forced to go to the police after enduring months of harassment from a member of the public.

Coun Matthew Boles said the abuse he received ‘crossed the line’ and even extended to the man contacting his children’s school.

He says he received little support from West Lindsey District Council during the 18-month ordeal.

Coun Boles, Liberal Democrat representative for Gainsborough North ward, called for councils to do more to protect councillors from intimidation.

Coun Boles has called for councils to do more to protect councillors from intimidation

He told a full council meeting : “I’ve been a councillor for 10 years. For eight I’ve loved it. I’ve had arguments with people, but it’s been done in the right way – I can disagree with people politically and also have a pint with them.

“However, in the last two years, I’ve been subjected to harassment and intimidation by a member of the public and had to go to the police.

“This man got to the point where he was emailing my daughter’s school about me.

“I sucked it up for the best part of 18 months – you think it’s part of the job. People will always disagree with you, but there’s a line.

“As councillors, we sign up for this, but our families don’t, and they see the abuse constantly on social media.

“There’s no support in place for councillors, which is no criticism of council officers. Other than going to police, there’s nothing that can be done.

“Councils have a duty of care to councillors. There’s a bigger debate to be had about how they can be supported.”

A spokesman from West Lindsey District Council said: “In our latest Code of Conduct, which has been approved by the Council, is clear that Members “should be able to undertake their role as a councillor without being intimidated, abused, bullied, or threatened by anyone, including the general public. Councillors have a right to expect respectful behaviour from the public.

“We trust that this incident has now been resolved by the police. However, we would remind any Councillors who being abused, intimidated or who receive threats, that they are entitled to stop any conversation or interaction in person or online and report them to the local authority and the police where appropriate.”

It came as the council backed the national Debate Not Hate campaign, which condemns the rising level of abuse against politicians.

Other members also spoke out against online vitriol, which is often anonymous.

Coun David Cotton, Liberal Democrat member for Saxilby, said: “I ask people if they want to stand for our parish council, and they say ‘I don’t want all the abuse’. Social media in particular puts people off.

“We have never had a full council this year because we can’t get enough people interested.”

The Debate Not Hate campaign says ‘while debating and disagreeing with one another is a healthy part of democracy, abuse and intimidation crosses the line into dangerous territory’.