Scotland’s top police officer has written to all local councillors in the country offering additional security advice following the tragic death of Sir David Amess MP.
The letter, sent by Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, addresses last week’s fatal stabbing of the Southend West MP and extends an invitation to councillors to join a security briefing led by specialist officers.
Mr Amess, who served his community from 1997, was attacked during a constituency meeting in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday.
A 25-year old man, Ali Harbi Ali, has been arrested in connection with his death and police confirmed it is being treated as a terrorist incident.
In the letter to councillors, Mr Livingstone described the deadly attack as “rare” but “shocking and utterly unacceptable”.
He added: “The fatal stabbing of Sir David Amess MP on Friday is a tragedy and has rightly given rise to widespread shock and distress within politics, across the community of Essex, the whole of the United Kingdom and beyond.
“While such attacks are rare, they are shocking and utterly unacceptable. It is vital our elected politicians are able to carry out their duties safely. You have my full support in delivering your public service.
“Over the weekend, Police Scotland wrote to MPs and MSPs to provide National Counter Terrorism Security Office guidance, as well as to COSLA for distribution to local authority councillors.
“We continue to work closely with colleagues across UK policing to ensure all our elected representatives are aware of relevant personal safety advice.
“I undertake that Police Scotland will do all we can to support you.”
In his letter Mr Livingstone invites councillors to join a safety and security briefing later this week.
“I recognise this comes at short notice, however consider it important to extend this invitation as a matter of priority,” Mr Livingstone writes.
Councillors must be able to meet ‘without fear of attack’
Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr said: “Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends and community of Sir David Amess MP.
“While there is no specific threat to Scotland, we are working closely with UK policing colleagues to ensure all MSPs and MPs are aware of relevant personal safety advice.
“We have well-established relationships with elected representatives and will discuss individual security arrangements further with them.”
Aberdeen Conservative councillor Ryan Houghton said he was glad the police had “acted quickly to provide updated guidance and advice”.
He added: “Councillors, MPs and MSPs, must be able to meet with constituents without fear of attack.
“It is essential to our democratic system that this link with the people and their representatives remain open.”
Highland councillor says response to threats ‘always comes too late’
Responding to the letter, Inverness Conservative councillor Andrew Jarvie said that until the issue of the “toxic online culture” towards public figures is dealt with then security briefings can only do so much.
He added: “Until the approach, not just from the police but by parliamentary authorities and councils, is much more proactive on how risks and threats are dealt with in advance I worry we may get to a situation where nothing can ever be enough.
“It’s clear that from not just this but from Jo Cox’s murder that the level of protection that’s offered unfortunately always seems to be in response to something – and it’s always too late.
“There are a number of parliamentarians who’ve been expressing these concerns for a number of years.
“It is a difficult one to straddle and a lot of it comes down to the political discourse in this country and the gradual eroding of what is deemed acceptable and you can see how that manifests online.
“This toxic culture that we see taking place on social media and the attitudes held towards parliamentarians, whether or not you agree with their policy decisions, they are still there to represent you on domestic cases.
“That element seems to have been completely lost.”
‘It is crucial that we remain in close contact with the people we represent’
Aberdeen Liberal Democrat councillor Martin Greig said that despite the tragic loss of life, he would not want to reduce the contact he has with the general public.
He said: “The murder of David Amess came out of the blue and you can never predict what someone will do when they have criminal intent.
“You calculate any risks and we live in a peaceful and friendly community and it’s hard to imagine acts of violence taking place when meeting residents.
“It is important for the police to reassess the safety of elected representatives, but it is crucial that we remain in close contact with the people we represent.”
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