The most important determining factor in deciding how to respond to intimidation is the impact it is having on you. Regardless of what others may think, if it is having an effect on you, then that is sufficient enough for you to take action.
- Councillors are encouraged to keep a record of any intimidatory communication or behaviour
- It is fine to consider the context, content and frequency of communications and behaviours, and action can be taken retroactively
- Contact with unknown or anonymous individuals should be undertaken with care
- Councillors are encouraged to speak out against harassment and intimidation of others and address any inappropriate and disrespectful behaviour, where they feel safe to do so, with the aim of discouraging others from accepting such behaviours
- 1. General advice
Below are a suggested set of actions that you could undertake if you consider you are being subjected to intimidation:
• Make sure that your immediate safety is not at risk. Make sure you are safe.
• If possible, record or diarise the encounter or communication. In the case of an email or letter you can copy or save it. A telephone call or face-to-face discussion and social media incident could be written in a diary as soon as possible after the event, recorded, screen-shot or saved. You can also take photos of damage or even a computer screen. Even if this is the first or only incident, others may also have been subjected to intimidation and a collective record is important if future action is going to be taken. It is also important that incidents relating to the same individual or individuals should be recorded as such evidence could be critical if the matter gives rise to a criminal prosecution.
• Raise the incident with a view to discussing it or obtaining support from a nominated council officer and/or political group nominated person. This will also help you establish if others have been subjected to the same or similar intimidation.
• If a serious potential crime has occurred, it is advisable to formally report it to the council and/or to the police, particularly in the context of a serious threat to life or anticipated violence.
• If you are concerned about your personal safety, raise this with the council and the police so that there is a record of the impact the incident is having and review your own security and personal safety. This could include your personal or work activities and those of your family.
• Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, councils have a duty to safeguard their staff against potentially violent persons and often have a register with names of such parties. Although councillors are not employees in the legal sense, treating them as such in this instance will enable the council and the councillor to ascertain if the individual or individuals who have intimidated them is on such register and, if not, ensure that that their name is added.
• Every situation will be different, and it will need a personal judgement about whether it is worthwhile to pursue the incident, ignore it or politely acknowledge.
• If the letters, phone calls, social media communications or emails continue, further steps may need to be considered such as advising the individual that such abuse will result in a referral to the police and the stopping of further correspondence.
- 2. SHIELD principles
In addressing public intimidation, the LGA has developed the following SHIELD principles:
Safeguard – where possible, protect yourself online and in person. For example, set out in any online biography or page that abusive, threatening or intimidatory communication or actions will be reported, utilise security features, take personal safety precautions and have a point of contact in the local police for any incidents.
Help – in any situation ensure you are safe before you take further action and get help if needed. If the threat is not immediate, you can contact officers at the council who have been given the responsibility to support you or someone with that role from your political group.
Inform – you can inform the individual or group that you consider their communication or action as intimidating, threatening or abusive. There is a growing movement of ‘digital citizenship’, which encourages the labelling of poor online conduct as a way of challenging such behaviour.
Evidence – if you consider that a communication or action is intimidatory, threatening or abusive, gather evidence. For example, photos, recordings, screen-shots, letters, emails, details of witnesses, etc.
Let people know – report the incident to your social media platform/officers/party contact/lead member/the police; depending on the nature and severity of the incident(s). Be prepared that the police and courts will look to determine if the incident is intimidation based on the theoretical opinion of the average person.
Decide – determine whether you want to continue receiving communications from the individual or group and block or mute if on social media where appropriate. Decide if you want to pursue any action to inhibit the ability of the individual or group to approach you.
- 3. Intimidation on the telephone
• Continue to be polite and try to stay calm – ensuring you are safe
• If you have a recording function on your phone, particularly if it is a mobile phone, switch this on. You can also use your mobile phone to record a landline call by switching on the voice recording function and holding it to the landline phone
• Try to ascertain the complaint if there is one and indicate to the person on the phone that you consider that they are trying to intimidate you and that calls may be recorded
• Try to ascertain the name, address and telephone number if you can
• Remember not to reveal any personal details
• Sometimes a suggestion that the caller refers the matter to the standards committee of the council may result in a solution for the caller
• If the call continues with threats, abuse and/or intimidation, you can terminate the call, indicating to the caller that you will do this
• Make a note of any details of the call you can remember, particularly the person’s phone number
• If you are concerned make a report to responsible officer at the council.
- 4. Your mental health
Being abused or intimidated, whether in person or remotely, can have an impact on your mental health. If you are feeling anxious or worried, or if it is affecting your daily routines such as sleeping or eating, or if you have any concerns, do speak to your local GP.