Babergh leader would have “thought twice” about role if he’d known the abuse involved

By Siobhan Middleton (local democracy reporter)

22nd Nov 2022 | Local News

Babergh leader John Ward 'death threat'
Babergh leader John Ward 'death threat'

Babergh leader John Ward has said he would have "thought twice" about running for the role had he known the abuse he'd be put through by angry members of the public.

If he'd anticipated a death threat, attempted forced entry to his home and social media abuse, Cllr Ward said he might have stayed on the back benches.

However, he said he won't give up now and the experiences have made him more resilient.

This statement comes as Cllr Ward plans to ask the council to sign up Debate Not Hate tomorrow, a Local Government Association (LGA) campaign challenging abuse and intimidation of councillors.

Cllr Ward said: "Around three years ago, I received an email which was effectively a death threat.

"Then, a couple of years ago, a convoy was sent to my home to protest council plans to reduce free parking.

"My daughter was at home on her own. While the ringleader tried to jam his way into the house, she had to push the door from the inside.

"I've had some pretty nasty stuff directed at me online, too.

"If I had known the kind of hate that would be directed at me ahead of time, I might not have put myself forward to be leader. It would have made me think twice.

"I'm getting CCTV fitted at my house. However, I am now more resilient and I will not be intimidated into giving up the role of leader."

Debate Not Hate is influenced by these kinds of experiences, which are not unique to Cllr Ward: the 2022 councillor census by the LGA found seven in ten councillors had experienced abuse or intimidation in the last year.

The campaign aims to raise public awareness of the role of councillors in their communities, encourage healthy debate and improve support for local politicians facing abuse and intimidation.

Cllr Ward said of the campaign: "I hope this will make some people sit back and think twice before they direct hate towards councillors.

"It may not have an immediate impact, but hopefully it will bring about change over time.

"It is quite clear from the LGA's own investigations that it has got out of hand. Something has to be done.

"Those who direct abuse and intimidation towards councillors don't seem to realise that we really care and want to get the right things done.

"But quite often it is not easy and we are constrained by funding. Sometimes, we have to make compromises."

*Hadleigh Conservative president Ian Grutchfield convicted of attacking council leader's home

*Conservative group leader made obscene gesture to Babergh boss in council chamber

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