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Saturday, 29 January, 2000, 14:25 GMT
Attack prompts MPs to rethink security

Gates to Downing Street Downing Street's security gates: Installed by Margaret Thatcher

Constituency surgeries may never be the same after the shocking attack by a swordsman which left a Liberal Democrat councillor dead and an MP injured in Cheltenham.

The attack has raised fears that the traditional 'open door policy' will become a thing of the past as politicians from all parties consider their security arrangments.

Labour MP Dan Norris, who has carried out research on the levels of violence faced by social workers, reckons members of parliament are threatened on a regular basis.

"It's a very alarming case but I don't think its surprising," the Wansdyke MP told BBC News24. "This was bound to happen I'm afraid.

Labour MP Dan Norris Norris: Attacks are under-reported
"While it's a very severe example, I suspect a lot of MPs endure threats and intimidation from their constituents and no doubt this is what will be coming to light over the coming weeks and months.

"Like all forms of violence, attacks on MPs are probably under-reported.

"If any research were to be done it would find they are facing much more violence than anyone suspects, but none of them have said anything about it because they all felt they were the victims of isolated incidents."

Lax security

He said most MPs' security arrangements were not up to scratch.

"I'm not sure they do it terribly well at the moment. Other professions who have simliar roles where they have to deal with the public have developed practical strategies to make sure that the risks are minimised."

I always make sure I sit nearest the door in the surgery room so that if the constituent gets too angry I can get out
Labour MP Dan Norris
"If a constituent has shown they can be violent I use a baby monitor in the surgery room and make sure someone is listening in from next door," he said.

"You have to be sure to respect people's confidentiality, so that measure is only taken if someone has a history of violence.

"I always make sure I sit nearest the door in the surgery room so that if the constituent gets too angry I can get out."

"But the bottom line is you can't completely remove the risk if you're working with the public. It's not like a bank, for example, where you can be behind a screen."

Mr Norris said more and more MPs were keeping the location of their constituency offices secret to protect their staff and themselves from attack.

Scene Councillor Andrew Pennington killed in attack
But they still receive no formal advice on security unless they approach their local police force.

"There should be a definite pack of information and perhaps even a series of classes for MPs on how to organise their constituency surgeries and how to stay safe in doing that," he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy fears less openness at constituency surgeries will be the inevitable consequence of the attack.

"MPs can't conduct their lives in glass boxes, hermetically sealed from their constituents," he said.

"Equally, their constituents have got every right to come and see all of us, from all parties, in all parts of the country, knowing that they are going to be safe and secure in so doing.

Security advice

"And (the) dreadful implication of a wicked act like this is that this will cause too many people to reexamine the ease of access which is fundamental in the workings of a healthy, open, accessible democracy."

Paul Keetch, Liberal Democrat MP for Hereford, says MPs are sure to have doubts about continuing with an open door policy at their surgeries.

"I talked late into the night with my wife about how we could make my surgeries more secure," he said.

"I have already received a message from a local security company in Hereford offering to review my security, and I will be talking to the police and I'm sure other MPs will be doing that."

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See also:
28 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
MPs condemn "senseless tragedy"
28 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
A constituency man
29 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
MP 'stable' after sword attack

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