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Privilege

Volume 568: debated on Wednesday 9 October 2013

I beg to move,

That the Police Information Notice from Sussex Police addressed to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, dated 4 September 2013, be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

I am very grateful, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to raise a matter relating to a breach of parliamentary privilege by Sussex police and briefly to provide the context to this motion to refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges.

You will recall, Mr Speaker, my Adjournment debate on 13 March when you kindly sat in the Chair to hear the extraordinary story of the six-month investigation into me by Sussex police on account of a single e-mail I had sent to a constituent in which I had endorsed the right of my local council, Adur council, to refer to a particularly troublesome resident as “unkempt”. Subsequently the constituent complained that as he claimed to be of Romany Gypsy origin, unbeknown to me or anybody else, this was in some way racist. When the case was rightly thrown out six months later, I questioned the bizarre behaviour of Sussex police in wasting so much time and taxpayers’ resources on an obviously vexatious complaint from a serial complainer. I also raised the implications this had for the right of other hon. Members to correspond with their constituents without fear of the police knocking on their constituency doors.

The account I gave during the debate raised, unsurprisingly, disbelief and indignation in equal proportions. However, what has transpired since will, I am sure, top that and, again, has implications for the way in which all hon. Members go about their business. I believe it represents a clear breach of parliamentary privilege by Sussex police, and in the full knowledge of the Chief Constable Martin Richards.

In the debate, I stated that such was the vile abuse that had been aimed at me and my staff by the constituent and his attempts to have me prosecuted that it was no longer tenable for me to act as his MP. I said, therefore, that I would no longer be responding to his correspondence or abusive phone calls, which had left my staff in tears. I proposed to write to him to that effect but, given the spurious grounds on which he had previously referred my correspondence to the police, I first sought the assurance of the chief constable that such a straightforward and innocuous letter would not again lead to their involvement. In a singularly obstructive meeting, in which he repeatedly stated that he had complete confidence that the police had handled the case perfectly correctly, Chief Constable Martin Richards refused to comment on my proposed letter.

Subsequently I sought guidance from the Clerk, who in contrast has been singularly helpful. He advised me that I should send a complete copy of the Hansard record of 13 March, including the report of the debate, to the constituent, with a compliment slip and without any need for a covering letter, and that that would be protected by parliamentary privilege. That is exactly what I did. Subsequently I have had no communications with my ex-constituent, have made no public statement and have not responded to or initiated any social media to do with him.

In contrast, the constituent has stepped up an onslaught of vile abuse since 13 March, primarily against me as well as the leader and the chairman of Adur district council, his ward councillor and assorted others who cross his path. Yesterday he abused the organisers of Worthing mental health awareness week, which I launched, and to date he has posted on his blog and sent tweets to or about me and my councillor colleagues on well over 200 occasions.

Many come under the heading of political abuse, which, however offensive it may be, we all know is part of our job. However, what is not part of our job is that they have included doctored photographs of my children, taken from their social media sites. What a man in his 40s is doing trawling the social media sites of teenage girls, I do not know. They were eventually taken down, but he then attempted to blackmail me, saying he would put them up again unless I complied with his demands. He has posted doctored pictures of the council leader’s young children regaled with Nazi insignia. He has posted vile, contorted accounts of my parents’ divorce, forged tweets, posted references to my neighbours and photographs of my home, and most recently a direct tweet urging me to commit suicide, along with assorted lies, made up stories and pure fantasy. He has also recently sought to disrupt our regular street surgeries and pour his abuse on anyone who happens to be in the vicinity, and to menace guests at the chairman’s charity dance. I guess we all sometimes have to deal with very nasty people, but this one wins all the awards.

Despite my complaints—which have led to the man’s arrest on just one occasion—the police have failed to secure any charges and he carries on harassing, bullying, stalking, trolling and abusing me, my family and colleagues. However, on 4 September, out of the blue I had a formal police information notice served on me by Sussex police for harassment. Other hon. Members will probably have come across these notices when used on constituents in anti-social behaviour cases. The notice stated that the police had received an allegation of harassment against me by the aforementioned constituent, making me aware that if the kind of behaviour described were to continue I would be liable to arrest and prosecution. The specific single incident of behaviour that gave rise to this PIN was the act of sending a copy of Hansard to my ex-constituent. Apparently this had caused him alarm and distress. That came as a surprise to me and various others, particularly given that on his blog on 14 March that ex-constituent had described how he had watched my Adjournment debate on television with “great amusement.” Therefore, apparently, Hansard is a cause of alarm and distress, and Sussex police believe that our deliberations are a potent weapon of abuse.

I will not give way, if I may.

For good measure, the leader of Adur council, the chairman of the council and my constituent’s ward councillor were also issued with PINs for supposed harassment, as was my constituent. Clearly, that has only fuelled his vile crusade.

Apparently, a gold group led by Assistant Chief Constable Robin Merrett met on 3 July to approve those PINs at the highest level. Two months later, they were served on me and my councillor colleagues without my knowing that a complaint of harassment had even been made against me, or that I was under any investigation, in clear breach of the police guidance, which states that I should be given the opportunity to be interviewed to account for my actions and show that they were reasonable and lawful. No such interview took place. There is no appeal against the PIN, which remains on file for at least one year.

The increasingly hapless Detective Chief Inspector Wardley-Wilkins, who has led the investigations, having failed to secure vital evidence, having misled me about the earlier investigation and the current one and having failed to explain why he has breached police guidance, has offered me instructions on how I should correspond with constituents without risking a PIN. That is the police telling us how to do our job.

The chief constable, who has been copied in on all the events, has been content to waste taxpayers’ resources on this nonsense while the senior management of his force is brought into disrepute. He has clearly lost the plot when it comes to distinguishing between the victim and the perpetrator. I know that my local police officers, whom I rate highly, are as embarrassed and gobsmacked as I am at this action by their bosses.

Such a sequence of events would offend against natural justice were it suffered by any of our constituents, and we would rightly raise the matter in the House. However, in this case, the events are an intolerable affront to the rights of the House and hon. Members to go about their business of representing their constituents without fear or favour. If it goes unchecked, any constituent with a grudge against his or her Member of Parliament could claim harassment. Any hon. Member exposing any dodgy organisation in Parliament could find themselves being questioned by the police, or, with reference to DCI Wardley-Wilkins, being given advice on how to do their jobs. Indeed, Abu Hamza could well have a case against the Home Secretary for being rightly beastly about him in Parliament and she could find herself on the receiving end of a police information notice.

Therefore, for all hon. Members, I propose that we pass the motion and refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges.

Question put and agreed to.