MP security – we must keep access for the public

I never met Jo Cox. All I have heard about her tragic and pointless death is that she was the right sort of MP that entered Parliament with pure motives and who is a sad loss. She cared about the people in her constituency, regardless of their background. She worked for OXFAM, and knew that life in Britain is much easier than in other parts of the world – and she believed that it is our duty to help those in need, not least those children who have fled war in Syria and are now alone. She was a fine MP who will be missed, most particularly by her family and friends who should be in our thoughts at this desperately sad time.

I suppose inevitably, my telephone and e-mail box were red hot in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Jo, because I suffered a similar experience at my Cheltenham constituency in the 2000. My assault was at the hands of a local resident whom I had assisted in the past and whilst I was injured and escaped, my wonderful assistant Andrew Pennington, like Jo, died. Whilst my physical injuries were slight, requiring just 57 stitches to my hands, the mental scars are still there, although I no longer relive the experience every day like I used to.

As a result of my attack in January 2000, security advice for MPs was beefed up. When I was first elected to the House of Commons in 1992, I was given a piece of A4 paper folded into three telling me to remain inconspicuous in my constituency. Well, when you have a marginal seat, that is the last thing you want to do. You simply cannot attend the school fete wearing a paper bag over your head.

Today’s advice is more robust, offering training to MPs and their staff on how to identify obsessive and possibly violent constituents, and how to talk down those who are highly upset by their own particular problems. The most recent advice is to get out of threatening situations and contact the authorities when you are in a safe place.

I must admit that back in 2000 my immediate response was to get back to work as soon as possible, and to employ the services of two burly security men by my side. I achieved the first, which was a mistake, and ultimately decided against the second because I did not want to create an expensive precedent for hard-pressed taxpayers.

My advice to Stephen Timms, who was attacked in his office some years ago, was to take his time recovering, not to return to work too early, and to accept treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I would have given the same advice to Jo, had she survived but tragically never got the chance.

Do MPs need special security in order to carry out their job properly? Advice from the police is available but I would not like to see MPs only accessible behind glass screens. There is no doubt that in recent times society has become less respectful towards elected representatives, not just in this country. The tone and approach of the EU Referendum campaign has not helped much towards engendering the proper, democratic aim of allowing people to disagree and debate but in a mature, peaceful and respectful manner.

I do not believe a special case should be made about security just for MPs. Many people meet the public every day, and sometimes find themselves in difficult and dangerous situations. The police, fire fighters, council workers, shop assistants, and those working in hospitals, schools and colleges are just some who need to have their concerns about security taken seriously.

At the end of the day, a good and decent woman, wife and mother has been taken from us, making our society poorer. Surely it is down to each one of us to look into our own hearts and think how we, as individuals, can help to make our society safer, better, more tolerant of others and more generous to those in need. That is the kind of country in which I want to live.

* Nigel Jones was MP for Cheltenham from 1992 to 2005 and is now a member of the House of Lords

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jun '16 - 1:01am

    Admirable , from Lord Jones, but I see nothing wrong with a meeting with an MP preceded by an encounter with a metal detector or other security.

    If it would bring Jo Cox back or prevent something similar , I would support far more security, like the sort of searching of bags that was common when I was a boy in the seventies and eighties entering a museum in London , due to the terrorist threat then re Northern Ireland.

  • grahame lamb 22nd Jun '16 - 8:48am

    I agree, particularly with your comment in the penultimate paragraph that a wide range of people are at risk every day in a society in which a difficult minority is increasingly disrespectful of other people. What is heartening is that so many people rushed spontaneously to help.

    We can still have hope.

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