EAST Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton has spoken of his dismay of receiving a harassment warning from Sussex Police after sending a constituent a copy of parliamentary proceedings.
Mr Loughton received the police information notice after sending constituent Kieran Francis a copy of minutes from a debate in March, in which he attacked Sussex Police’s investigation into an allegation he racially abused Mr Francis.
Using his parliamentary privilege during the debate, he slammed Mr Francis, and ‘sacked him as a constituent’.
Mr Francis subsequently complained to police that the minutes sent to him had caused him ‘alarm’, and Mr Loughton then received the notice from police.
Speaking in parliament today, Mr Loughton said: “I said I would no longer be responding to correspondence or abusive phone calls that had left my staff in tears.
“I proposed to write to him to that effect, but given the spurious grounds in which he had previously referred my correspondence to the police, I first sought assurance from the chief constable that such a straightforward and innocuous letter would not again lead to their involvement.”
Mr Loughton was not given such assurance, but was advised by the parliamentary clerk his actions would be covered by parliamentary privilege.
He said: “He advised me I should send a complete copy of the Hansard record, including a copy of the debate, to the constituent, with a compliments slip, without a need for a covering letter, and this would be protected by parliamentary privilege. And this is exactly what I did.”
The MP also detailed how Mr Francis had produced abusive material on his blog on ‘well over 200 occasions’, including pictures of his children taken from social media sites, and urging him to commit suicide.
No prosecutions were made.
Mr Loughton said: “This is an intolerable front to the rights of honourable members to go about their business of representing their constituents without fear or favour.
“If this goes unchecked, any constituent with a grudge against his or her member of parliament could claim harassment. Any member exposing any judging organisation in parliament could find themselves being questioned by the police, or being given advice about how to do our jobs.”
The matter was referred to the Committee for Privileges, after receiving the full support of MPs.
Following the debate, Sussex Police moved to ‘robustly defend’ its actions, branding Mr Loughton’s comments as ‘extraordinary criticism of the force’.
In a statement, it said all of those involved were issued with notices, and that they would ‘never seek to interfere with Parliamentary process or privilege’.
Assistant Chief Constable Robin Merrett said: ”In his speech, Mr Loughton focused in particular on the supply of the Hansard record to suggest that Sussex Police has interfered with the Parliamentary process.
“The person who received the Hansard report believed it to be a continuation of harassment against him and subsequently reported it to us.
“We would never seek to interfere with Parliamentary processes or privilege, but I strongly support actions taken by the force, which have been subject to independent legal scrutiny. We will of course await the views of the Committee of Privileges before commenting further.”
Police say the notices were sent as a warning to those involved.
Detective Chief Inspector Dave Wilkins said: “These letters act as an effective warning mechanism to stop behaviour that is causing distress to someone and could amount to harassment were it to continue.
“They are sent in the spirit of crime prevention and are a proportionate way for police to offer clear advice following an investigation where potentially hurtful or distressing behaviour has not yet reached the level of criminal harassment.”