Richmondshire county councillor reveals hostage drama

North Yorkshrie county councillor Carl Les under the bridge in Brompton-on-Swale.

The Richmondshire county councillor has revealed how he was held hostage by a “very distressed” constituent as plans for a dedicated fund to provide bespoke security advice and measures at the homes of councillors were unveiled.

North Yorkshire County Council leader and Catterick Bridge ward Carl Les said the authority had a duty of care to review the arrangements councillors have in place for managing their personal safety when attending meetings and meeting with members of the public alongside a series of other protective changes.

The authority has published security proposals for its 72 elected members as a mass was held at Westminster Cathedral for Sir David Amess MP, who was killed serving his constituents.

The move follows some North Yorkshire councillors reporting receiving death threats and having their property vandalised.

A meeting of the council’s executive on Tuesday will consider setting aside £15,000 to pay for temporary or permanent measures that police and security experts on a case by case basis advise are necessary.

Under the proposals councillors would be able to anonymously apply to the security fund, for which there would be no investigation as to whether there is any evidential support for the councillor’s concerns.

An officer’s report to the meeting states the fund would be “purely a process to help allay councillor concerns as they perceive them to be”.

It added: “The role of county councillor demands active community engagement and involvement. This often means meeting in person with individuals or groups on a formal or informal basis in a range of different settings. Meetings will often be held in the evening and can be in remote and isolated rural areas where a mobile phone signal may be unreliable.

“County councillors tend not to run surgeries in the communities that they serve. When looking at the circumstances of the killing of Sir David Amess MP and the murder of Jo Cox MP, five years previously, both were at constituency surgeries.”

In an indication of how seriously the authority is viewing the issue, the meeting will look at freeing up designated officers’ time to enable elected members with concerns to contact them to provide information about potentially violent persons before undertaking a home visit.

The leading members are also expected to debate promoting the reporting of incidents of abuse to better understand the scale of the issue and what further actions could be taken to reduce risks and holding regular seminars for councillors to brief them on personal safety.

Coun Les said the proposals were a proportionate and scaled approach to managing the risk public servants now faced at all levels.

The Catterick Bridge division member said: “MPs are perhaps at the pinnacle of that risk, but we do know that there have been threats made to local councillors. Every council has a duty of care to make sure its members are well advised to understand the risks and how we can mitigate them.

“There has been a specific case where a member in one part of the county has been threatened with physical violence and one of the safeguards the police have advised in that case is the installation of CCTV.

“We think we should have a small fund in the council to help members who are not in a position to fund extra security measures themselves.

“About ten years ago I went to do a house visit to a constituent who was very distressed about a matter. That person locked me in the house with them in it, put the key in his pocket and was not going to let me out until the council agreed to do what he wanted. It was only because his wife was present who convinced him that was not the right thing to do. It was quite frightening as the man concerned was clearly very distressed.

“There should be no barriers to people standing for election, but there have been incidences of harm done and threats made to people in public office and so we have a duty of care to make sure our councillors and staff are protected against any such threats in the future.”

Coun Les said it remained unclear whether the situation facing elected representatives had been exacerbated by social media “giving an opportunity for people, usually hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, to be forceful and aggressive in their views”.