Sunderland MP Julie Elliott tells court she was afraid to leave her house during alleged social media harassment campaign by Len Lowther
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott has told a court a how a social media campaign led by Leonard Lowther left her scared to be able to walk into the town centre alone.
Leonard Lowther, 66, of Pier Cottages, Marine Walk, Roker, denies that between February 2018 and October 2018 he harassed her by repeatedly publishing a menacing message online and contacting her via Twitter.
The court was told Lowther repeatedly claimed Ms Elliott was guilty of perverting the course of justice and accused her of conspiring with others to “use Northumbria Police as a personal police force” in online posts and flyers.
Police say that posts with the phrase “Hang the old hag” and an image of a woman hanging became “synonymous” with the inquiry, along with claims she and her office created a “fake document” to incriminate another man under investigation.
While giving evidence, the Labour MP detailed how the “relentless” posts on social media had an impact on her, her team and family, including son Miles who worked for her at the time.
Her office changed how it operated due to the messages.
She sought police advice and would not go into Sunderland city centre alone due to safety concerns, while at other times, she did not feel able to leave her home.
She also said the false allegations made in the posts and leaflets were repeated back to her by voters when she was out canvassing and she believes they had an impact at the polls during the December 2019 general election.
Ms Elliott told the court: “These were something in the public domain accusing my staff, my family, of lying and having an affect and had a reputational impact.
"Most days there was something somebody showed me about it, staff would report it, and we just felt it was non-stop.
"It was very damaging.”
Rachel Masters, prosecuting at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court, said the case was set against a lengthy background of issues Lowther has with Sunderland City Council about the redevelopment of sites, including those close to his home.
District Judge Kathryn Meek was told an inquiry into the council’s dealings found no issues, other than regarding communications with South Tyneside Council over the plans.
The defendant raised his concerns with Ms Elliott, who carried out her own investigation and found no wrongdoing.
The court was told the charges relate to a Twitter account the defendant used, along with his personal page on Facebook and a group he was an administrator of called ‘The Problem with Sunderland is Labour’.
It is linked to two other court cases, one against a man convicted of posting the phrase “Hang the old hag” in relation to Ms Elliott – under which Lowther posted “More of this please”, the court was told.
Lowther – who sent scores of tweets to Ms Elliott – invited others on his page and via messenger to add the same phrase under the post, which had led to the man’s arrest.
The court heard that Lowther had stated to his followers “It’s one rule for them and another for us” because action had not been taken against Labour’s John McDonnell when he declined to withdraw his views that Conservative politician Esther McVey should be “lynched.”
Ms Elliott told the court: “Even after all these years, its an expression I find deeply distressing and to encourage people to keep posting it, I find quite malicious and nasty.”
The court was told an investigation against another man was closed because police failed to capture their own evidence after an image of a woman hanging said to be in reference to the MP was shared in a closed group.
A screen grab was sent to police and Ms Elliott’s office by someone who declined to give evidence, leading Lowther to claim it was a “fake document.”
In evidence, Ms Elliott said claims the document was fabricated by her office were “not true.”
The trial continues.