Shocked MPs urged to review security after Jo Cox attack

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Mrs Cox has been remembered at vigils in her constituency and in Westminster

MPs have been urged to review their security but say they will continue with constituency surgeries despite the fatal attack on Labour’s Jo Cox.

Labour’s Neil Coyle said MPs had been “warned of copycat attacks” by police.

His Labour colleague Ben Bradshaw said they had been to hold appointment-only surgeries.

No 10 sent safety guidance to MPs after Mrs Cox was shot dead outside a library where she was due to hold a surgery in her West Yorkshire constituency.

Tributes paid to Jo Cox

Obituary: A proud Yorkshire lass

Husband’s tribute: Zest for life

Previous attacks on MPs

The surgery, which had been advertised on her website, was to be at the public library in Birstall, a small market town.

The Times reported that police had been due to put extra security in place at these events, after she had been harassed in a stream of messages over the past three months – but there is no known link between the messages and Thursday’s attack.

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MPs at Westminster are protected by armed police

MPs in Parliament are protected by layers of security and armed police – but in their constituencies, many meet voters face-to-face on a weekly basis.

Like many MPs, Mrs Cox said on her website: “No appointment is necessary, please just come along.”

‘Additional security’

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said they did not comment on security matters but were always in contact with Members of Parliament about their security.

But Bermondsey MP Mr Coyle said MPs had received new security advice.

“We’ve all been warned of copycat attacks.” he said.

“Police have been in touch with many MPs to offer additional security for those of us who are having surgeries today.”

And former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw told the BBC on Friday: “Advice has been given to all of us to have appointment-only surgeries.”

It has emerged Devon and Cornwall Police have interviewed a 37-year-old man after an abusive telephone call was made to his office.

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Mrs Cox, a mother of two, was attacked outside her constituency surgery in Birstall

Emails from the whips’ offices were sent to MPs advising them to talk to local police forces about security measures.

‘Very positive’

Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “I think what we have done is put procedures in place to support MPs, but not just MPs, it’s staff and family as well. My problem is persuading my colleagues to take up what we’ve got in security measures.”

He added: “Each MP will have to decide what they feel they need because it’s not one-size-fits-all.”

Media captionJo Cox was considered a rising star, as Carole Walker reports

Labour MP Caroline Flint told the BBC that she had spoken to counterparts in the US and across the world who were “quite astonished at the up close and personal relationship we have with our constituents”.

She said surgeries were a “good and very positive” part of British democracy but MPs had to be “mindful” about their safety and that of their staff in the face of “sometimes abusive” constituents.

The Labour MP for Barnsley Central, Dan Jarvis, said: “I know MPs are scared. We’ll be reviewing our security, but I’ll walk through Barnsley today like every Friday.”

Fellow Labour MP Jonathan Reynolds was going ahead with his constituency surgery but with “security present.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Politicians all over the country will hold Friday surgeries today. We’ll do so with heavy hearts. But it’s what we do. May it never change.”

But Rachel Reeves, whose Leeds West seat is close to Mrs Cox’s Batley and Spen constituency, said it was “right” to close her office on Friday.

She told the BBC: “We mustn’t let the actions of this man drive a wedge between MPs and the people we were elected to serve.

“The work of an MP in our surgeries, our work in the community must continue but I think it’s right today that as well as ceasing the campaigning in the referendum that we close our office.”

‘Distorted rage’

Even those who have been attacked, like Labour’s Stephen Timms who survived being stabbed twice in the stomach by a constituent in 2010, are reluctant to put up barriers between them and the people they represent.

Mr Timms said police had then asked if he wanted a metal detecting arch at his East Ham constituency surgeries, but he was reluctant to have one installed.

“The problem with that would be that it would make going to see your MP a pretty unpleasant experience and none of us want that to happen. I want my constituents to come and talk to me and I don’t want to make it harder for them to do so.”

Former Conservative MP Paul Goodman wrote on the ConservativeHome website: “We have gated communities. Will we end up with gated politicians, insulated from constituents for their own protection?”

Dr David James, of the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC), a Home Office unit which deals with security risks to public figures, said nobody wanted “fortified constituency surgeries” but things could be done to persuade MPs more generally to report disturbing behaviour.

He said it was important any “sort of warning behaviour” was reported to FTAC but sometimes MPs were reluctant to do so because “there’s a worry that they may be seen as ‘shopping’ their constituents”.

“One of the problems is that MPs, some MPs, tend to see this sort of aggressive behaviour as something that goes with the job. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be.”

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