Banbury councillor's home vandalised

A Labour Banbury councillor has told the BG about the growing levels of both online and physical abuse abuse she has received that have now been elevated to a police matter.

By Stuart Prestidge
Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 3:58 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 4:38 pm
Cassi Perry on election day in 2018
Cassi Perry on election day in 2018

Members of Parliament, particularly women MPs, have become the target of ever increasing abuse from members of the public with many cases becoming a criminal matter.

That abuse has now become so normalised that it has trickled down to the district and town councillor levels.

Cherwell District Councillor for Banbury Cross and Neithrop, Cassi Perry, was elected in May 2018, well after the Brexit referendum but immediately came under fire.

The councillor has had to move her boat into a more visible location (not pictured)

Cllr Perry said: "It was (the abuse) just instant, I really did jump in at the deep end.

"In some ways it is my own fault as I am very active online, I'm very active on Twitter, I do a lot of campaigning on Twitter and a lot of our councillors won't now, they won't touch it, they won't go on social media, we have councillors that have closed their Facebook accounts."

Although concerned with issues such as planning applications, refuse collection and housing, Labour district councillors now ready themselves for heightened levels of online abuse following issues at a national level.

"At the minute, every time there is a negative headline about the Labour Party then we get an immediate backlash online from that headline.

"It is targeted very specifically at the councillor - You should resign, why aren't you resigning? that sort of thing."

Cllr Perry added: "You wince, when you see one of those inflammatory headlines and you wince because you know what the next two or three days are going to be like."

The level of the abuse reached its peak when a swastika was daubed on the side of Cllr Perry's canal boat, an act the police are currently investigating, and one which has caused the councillor to fear for her safety.

"Normally I will look at their profile and often it is a troll account, its been newly created, has ten followers so I block straight away. If their profile shows that they have a strong ideology I usually mute, I wouldn't block in that case.

"With others I do try and engage. Broadly there is that difference between someone ranting at you, which is part of the job. People should be allowed to express their anger when things aren't working properly. But those you can engage with and talk around.

"The alarming this is when you they stop engaging with you but they still target you, tag you and are still fixated on you. That's when it starts to feel quite unsafe," said Cassi.

Cllr Perry is not alone in removing her address details from the Cherwell District Council site over safety concerns and has even had to take the step to re-moor in a well lit area of town.

While the right to protest or speak freely about political viewpoints is the very cornerstone of a democratic society, excessive and repeated online abuse is having a detrimental consequence for democracy itself.

"There's been a couple of points where I have thought 'why am I doing this?'. It has made me question whether I would want to run again and I have certainly stepped back from doing anything on national level and I do not know if I would ever do that again now.

"You can be quite anonymous as a councillor if you choose to be, but you don't reach people that way. That's part of the advantage of social media, it gives a voice to people and your constituents can reach you in a way they couldn't before.

"It's really important that we are not pushed out from that, that we do not give up that territory to the extremists and that is easily done and then we lose the value of social media.

Cllr Perry adds: "I feel that tension between not wanting to be bullied out of a role I love and enjoy but also keeping yourself safe. That's becoming more and more difficult."