How safe, do constituency staff feel outside of Westminster?

Sir David Amess’ brutal murder was a shocking and appalling act of terror. As we learnt from the recent court trial of his now convicted murderer, Ali Harbi Ali, its was a planned attack encouraged by Mr Amess’ office innocent advert of the location and time of his weekly surgery on Twitter, which made him a sitting target. Even after justice as they say has been served, with the perpetrator receiving a whole-life sentence for murdering Sir David Amess MP, there lingers a hollow feeling among staff who feel perplex and still unsafe especially those who work in the constituency offices up and down the country.

Mary Parker, a caseworker (Name changed to protect her identity) who works in a deprived urban community in the North East of England says that threats of violence have are a regular occurrence. Speaking to Parli-training, she says, it’s become common place for people to get very angry, very quickly, especially when they don’t get the outcome they were expecting. “It’s almost as if they feel that an MP has a magic wand and can fix any problem. We try our best but we are not super heroes and can only resolve issues with the system that exist.” She said, violent reactions and rudeness is really off putting and stressful to deal with and sometimes make her fear that you might get assaulted. “You have to have very tough skin to do this job and a good sense of humor just to get through the day sometimes. What’s really awful is after speaking to several staff her experience is common. Guidance available on security checks, police visits advice on office furnishing and panic button all seems woefully inadequate . “I still feel unsafe, especially during surgeries when you sometimes encounter tense and angry responses.”

What happened to the former Southend West MP was abominable and chilling and resonates deeply with all those who work with Members of Parliament in the constituency. Parliament’s response was to assign a security contractor to provide equipment and response manpower teams for MP’s offices. In a recent report in the Guardian one MP said “Security teams don’t always take issues seriously and it often takes repeated calls for action.”

One practical response would have been to provide on-going access to staff self defence training enabling the staff of MP’s to learn how to to defend themselves when things escalate into physical threats of violence. After the murder of the MP for for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox we ran a training course for staff, a Remaining safe – Personal Safety training for MPs and Caseworkers a Practical Version of a former general course. We continue to run this course for MP’s staff to this day.

Here’s some feedback from previous attendees

“This course was brilliant. The trainers were well versed in practical physical tips on what to do. I feel 100% more confident in dealing with potential attacks now. Thank you!” A Office Manager

” I would recommend this course for any MP who has experienced threatening behavior from the public. The trainers were professional and straight forward and very practical in their approach. There was a good ratio of trainers to staff members and I was given extra personal time with the trainers to reappraisal past incidents giving me a better understanding of best ways to keep myself and my staff safe. I would recommend this course to fellow Members of Parliament.” An MP

In conclusion it is unclear what the future holds for staff working in the constituency and what additional support they are likely to receive in the near future. On paper the adoption of a major security contractor to provide quick fire responses from localised security teams seems like a workable solution. But in reality the actual staff who face the menace of threats and daily abuse still feel unsafe outside of the well protected zone of the parliamentary estate which has the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP) on hand to protect staff and MPs working inside and around the Palace of Westminster.

“I cannot recommend this course more highly enough. Everyone should do it. It was practical confidential and necessary. I now feel much more able to deal with things. This has been a very eye-opening and empowering experience.” Caseworker