A 38-year-old man who threatened to rape and kill a Labour MP in a social media message, just weeks after she was elected, has pleaded guilty to breaking the Malicious Communications Act.
The MP for Dewsbury, Paula Sherriff, told The Independent on Sunday that last week’s plea will “send a message” to keyboard warriors who think they can make threats just because they are sitting in front of a computer. The court hearing comes as a number of prominent politicians warn of increased abuse on social media – Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the issue in his first leader’s speech to the Labour conference last week.
Daniel Labacik sent the message to the “Paula Sherriff fighting for Dewsbury” Facebook page in June. The MP had called for unity in Dewsbury after it emerged that a local 17-year-old, Talha Asmal, had become Britain’s youngest known suicide bomber in an attack linked to so-called Islamic State in Iraq.
Ms Sherriff had received abusive emails all day, mainly from far-right extremists. Mr Labacik’s message appeared on her iPad just before 9pm when she was in one of Parliament’s tearooms. Part of the message read: “Dead girl walking. Hope you get raped. We got your phone number and details. Thanks.”
Initially, she thought such threats were “par for the course” for an MP, but colleagues advised her to call the police immediately.
But someone in the police leaked the events to the local press, which meant that Ms Sherriff had to call her mother, and warn her: “Don’t worry, mum, but you might read in the paper that someone wants to kill me.”
Ms Sherriff lives alone in the centre of Dewsbury and worried that her address was readily available. “The prospect of him knowing where I lived was not out of the question,” she said. “I felt really angry. You know he threatened to rape me – how dare he? It’s highly unlikely a woman would say that to a man.
“Yvette Cooper [the former shadow home secretary] has talked about how we have to deal with misogyny online and Jeremy [Corbyn] has referred to it. People can’t think that because they are hiding behind a computer that they can get away with this kind of thing.
“Abuse is unacceptable, but to a degree comes with the job. Threats like this, though, are completely unacceptable.”
A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “Jeremy spoke about cyber-bullying and the need to respect everyone at conference and this is obviously a very serious example of that.”
Mr Labacik, from Nottinghamshire, was granted conditional bail but the court will sit for a pre-sentence report on 21 October.
Ms Sherriff was one of Labour’s few success stories at the election, ousting sitting Conservative Simon Reevell by a slim majority of 1,451.
She has risen to prominence already after forcing W H Smith to lower the prices they charge for products in hospitals, which were substantially higher than in the chain’s high-street shops. For example, a bottle of water at a Wakefield hospital was £1.79, against £1 on the high street.Reuse content