A handful of retired constituents delivering their local MP a petition might not sound the most terrifying of prospects, but it prompted one Tory politician to call for police protection.
Charity volunteer Liz Marsden had phoned Conservative MP Sir Richard Ottaway ahead to let his office know that she and around eight other people would be presenting a petition against the lobbying bill to the MP for Croydon later that evening.
Yet when they arrived, the group, amongst whom was an 81-year-old woman, were met by two officers and a police car barring their entrance to the building. Only Mrs Marsden was allowed in and Sir Richard Ottaway, who was knighted in the New Year, refused to come out to meet his constituents.
Mrs Marsden, who is a Friends of the Earth volunteer, told The Independent his behaviour was a bit cowardly and added: “The irony is we were handing in a petition against the lobbying bill.”
The controversial bill, which aims to stop organisations from having undue influence on political parties, has been dubbed the 'gagging law' by some who believe it will threaten free speech, silencing charities and campaigners in the run up to elections.
She added:"It is ironic that the gagging bill is motivated by a fear of people taking part in democracy, and our group was made up of interested constituents trying to talk to their MP and he wouldn’t let our voices be heard.
“I think he had in his head that we were raging campaigners, but we were a group of people who were mostly retired and all aligned with charities. If he’d looked out the window he would have seen that we were just a group of responsible citizens. The bill is fearful and draconian: it seems that the government would just rather have everything done their way and what happened here seemed to mirror that.”
Sir Richard Ottoway didn’t respond to The Independent’s request for comment but told the London Evening Standard: “We got in touch to ask for assurances about security issues and she failed to give those assurances.
“Out of concern for my two staff and the five or so other constituents who had appointments with me, I called the local police team to notify them of a protest. If you have an unknown number of people descending on your office you have to take precautions. I would do the same again.”
A spokesperson for the Met police said: “Officers spoke to all parties. No offences were identified and the officers left.”