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By Paul Manning, Director of Graspan Frankton

The safety of Members of Parliament (MPs) in the United Kingdom has become a rising concern in recent years. The threat is highlighted by the tragic murders of Jo Cox in 2016 and Sir David Amess in 2021 as they carried out constituency surgeries. These incidents, along with an alarming rise in threats of violence, murder, and rape, have cast a long shadow over the UK’s political landscape, prompting urgent discussions about the need for personal security measures for MPs.

A Recent History of Violent Attacks on MPS

Airey Neave (1979) – Airey Neave was a Conservative MP and the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he was assassinated by a car bomb as he left the Palace of Westminster. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Ian Gow (1990) – Ian Gow was a Conservative MP and former Parliamentary Private Secretary to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He was killed by a car bomb planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside his home in East Sussex.

Nigel Jones and Andrew Pennington (2000) – Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones was attacked with a sword during a constituency surgery in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. His assistant, Andrew Pennington, was killed while defending him.

Stephen Timms (2010) -Labour MP Stephen Timms was stabbed twice in the abdomen at a constituency surgery in East Ham, London, by Roshonara Choudhry, who said she was inspired by al-Qaeda.

Jo Cox (2016) – Jo Cox was a Labour MP for Batley and Spen when she was murdered by Thomas Mair, a man with far-right sympathies, a week before the EU referendum. She was shot and stabbed in Birstall, West Yorkshire, as she was about to hold a constituency surgery.

David Amess (2021) – Sir David Amess, a Conservative MP for Southend West, was stabbed to death during a constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, by Ali Harbi Ali, who was later found guilty of murder and preparing acts of terrorism.

The Growing Threat

The escalation in threats against MPs is not just about extreme high-profile cases that splash front pages, but an avalanche of abuse occurring daily for those in office, ranging from online trolling to harassment and in the grimmest cases, physical violence. This alarming trend poses significant questions about the impact on political participation, particularly among younger generations who may view a career in politics as too dangerous, potentially leading to a stagnant political future devoid of fresh ideas and diverse voices – a depressing thought!

The Cost of Security

Graspan Frankton estimates that offering comprehensive close protection to all 650 MPs would cost more than £245 million per year, a figure that underscores the substantial investment required to maintain such a high standard of security.

The question of who should bear the cost of MPs’ private security is complex, especially in the shadow of past controversies over MPs’ expenses. While the initial thought might lean towards MPs covering their own security costs or claiming them as expenses, the reality is that the financial burden would likely fall on the public purse.

This is not merely a matter of logistics but of principle. The government has a duty of care to its Members of Parliament, and ensuring their safety is in the best interest of a functioning democracy. It’s imperative to protect those who represent the public, maintaining their ability to serve without fear for their personal safety.

What Does Personal Protection Entail?

Personal protection services are tailored to meet the unique needs of an individual, reflecting the specific risks associated with their public profile, lifestyle, and work commitments. This comprehensive and nuanced approach ensures that high-profile individuals can continue their public and private lives with minimal disruption. Here’s what a personal protection team would seek to achieve:

Physical Protection – This is the typical presence of bodyguards that you’ve seen in movies. Close protection officers who are trained to respond to physical threats. They are responsible for assessing security risks, planning safe routes, and physically protecting their client from harm. Often putting themselves in harms way to protect a client and constantly alert to potential threats.

Secure Transportation – The use of armoured vehicles and secure transportation plans would be put in place to ensure the safety of the individual while traveling. This includes pre-planned routes with safety considerations and backup plans in case of an incident.

Residence Security – Enhancements would be made to the individual’s home security systems, including surveillance cameras, alarm systems, and sometimes even safe rooms designed to offer protection for themselves and their family members in case of an attack.

Cybersecurity Measures – This encompasses protection against digital threats, such as hacking or online harassment. This could involve secure communication devices, encryption, and regular cybersecurity audits

Threat Assessment and Intelligence Gathering – Ongoing assessment of potential threats and gathering intelligence related to any potential risks. This can involve monitoring social media, public records, and other sources of information. Online threats have hugely increased over the past decade, assessing their severity is a significant but crucial undertaking for security teams.

Emergency Response Planning – An important aspect of protective security is the development of emergency response plans should the worst happen. These plans can be executed in case of various scenarios, including medical emergencies, kidnapping, or terrorist attacks.

A Professional Opinion

At Graspan Frankton, we advocate for a nuanced approach to this issue and suggest that risk assessments should be carried out for all MPs. This would ensure that those facing the highest levels of threat receive the most robust protection measures, tailoring the level of security to the individual’s specific risk profile. Such an approach not only optimises resources but also ensures that the focus remains on those who are most in need of protection.

Beyond the Financial Implications

The necessity for personal security raises profound questions about the state of democracy and society. It underscores a disturbing reality where public servants face dangers that necessitate constant protection, potentially altering the dynamic between MPs and the constituents they serve. Moreover, the psychological impact on MPs and their families cannot be overlooked, as the constant threat of violence takes its toll.

Where do we go from here?

Addressing the issue demands a multifaceted approach. Besides bolstering security measures, there is a need to tackle the root causes of political violence, from improving online security to adopting a more respectful public discourse. The role of education, media, and legal reforms in mitigating these threats is crucial, aiming not only to protect individuals but to preserve the integrity of the democratic process.

Protecting Life is Paramount

As we’ve touched on in this article, at Graspan Frankton we believe that the safety of MPs is a matter that goes beyond individual security, touching on the very foundations of democracy and public service. As the UK grapples with these challenges, the balance between ensuring safety and maintaining an open, accessible political system remains delicate. In real human terms though, MPs cannot be expected to accept the threat of violence or death as an occupational hazard. As a nation we mustn’t wait for another terrible murder to happen, especially when we have the tools to prevent it.

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