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Angela Rayner says family has faced terrifying and explicit abuse

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Angela Rayner has spoken of facing “terrifying” abuse against her family and apologised for having previously called Tories scum, as a man was sentenced for telling her to “watch your back and your kids”.

Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, issued a statement about the abuse she had received in recent weeks, saying the threats “had a devastating impact” on her, her children and others close to her.

Three men have been arrested in connection with malicious communications towards Rayner this week, including Benjamin Iliffe, 36, who was charged and given a 15-month suspended sentence on Thursday.

A court heard Iliffe told a probation officer he felt “angry” after Rayner’s comments about Tories and claimed he felt her language made her partly responsible for the killing of Conservative MP Sir David Amess.

In her statement Rayner took the opportunity to say sorry for her controversial comments about Tory “scum” at Labour conference last month, saying she had reflected on her words and would like to “unreservedly apologise”.

Rayner released the statement after facing a barrage of abuse after making the comments. The threats, which she said had left her feeling shaken and taken their toll on her staff, mean she has had to cancel constituency surgeries and public appearances.

At the time of her comments Rayner stood by her description of the Conservatives as “homophobic, racist, misogynistic … scum” even though Sir Keir Starmer distanced himself from her words. A spokesman for Rayner said there had been no pressure at all on her to apologise now and she had done so only because she believed it was the right thing to do.

After taking time off after the death of a loved one, Rayner said: “I have reflected on what I said at an event at Labour party conference. I was angry about where our country is headed and policies that have made life harder for so many people I represent. But I would like to unreservedly apologise for the language I used, and I would not use it again.”

She praised Amess as a “kind, generous and warm-hearted man” and said all politicians had a “responsibility for our language and rhetoric, whether towards political opponents or anyone else in society”.

She added: “I will continue to speak my mind, stand up for Labour values and hold the government to account. But in the future I will be more careful about how I do that and in the language that I choose.”

The extent of abuse against Rayner emerged on Wednesday and Thursday as police revealed they had arrested three men over three incidents of abuse, one of whom was charged.

The defendant, who appeared by video link from a police station in Peterborough on Thursday, warned Rayner to “watch your back and your kids” in the email. It said: “Promise you cunt. There’s so many people in this country now, after your poster boy murdered an Englishman who are coming after you now cunt. You were easy to find btw. I already found your personal home address.”

During the sentencing hearing on Thursday a probation officer told the court: “He informed me that following the death of Sir David Amess MP, he felt angry at the victim who – he states – described a member of the Conservative party previously or referred to them as ‘scum’. He reports that he felt she was making light of the situation and felt angry as a result of this.

“He stated he wanted to vent, and felt that somebody needed to tell her she was partially responsible for the attack following her use of language. When reflecting on this matter he accepted he had expressed himself wrong, and he himself had also used the wrong language in order to communicate his point.”

Iliffe, a former delivery driver, of Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, was sentenced to 15 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, after pleading guilty to malicious communications.

He was made the subject of a two-year restraining order not to contact Rayner directly or indirectly, not to talk about her on social media and not to go to her office in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester.

Separately, a 70-year-old was also arrested on suspicion of malicious communication on Thursday and police said he remained in custody for questioning over abusive emails received on 16 October.

It comes the day after police arrested a 52-year-old man from Halifax over alleged threats against Rayner. His arrest related to abusive phone calls received on 15 October and he has since been released on bail pending further inquiries.

Delivering the sentence, the presiding magistrate, Andrew Riddington, said: “We believe that the offences are so serious that it does cross the custody threshold. It’s so serious because of the psychological harm caused to a public servant.”

However, Riddington said the sentence could be suspended after credit for Iliffe’s guilty pleas and the “remorse shown”. He hoped the rehabilitation activity would help the defendant with his “low self-esteem” and “drug use”.

Claire Thorneley, mitigating, said Iliffe had no previous convictions. “It’s one email sent from his own personal account with no attempt to disguise himself,” she said. “He was very apologetic and remorseful. He’s expressed twice that he would wish an opportunity to apologise personally to Ms Rayner for the fear and distress he caused.”

The defendant was also ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work and 35 days of a rehabilitation activity. He was made to pay £85 costs and a £128 victim surcharge.

Naz Shah, another Labour MP, also spoke on Thursday of having to dial 999 and evacuate her children from her home in the middle of the night following an “immediate firearms threat”.

She recounted the incident after a woman, Sundas Alam, 30, admitted a number of charges at York crown court relating to sending death threats to the Bradford West MP. Shah said: “Having lost two colleagues in the space of five years, death threats are close to home”.

Starmer sent messages of solidarity to both Rayner and Shah.

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