A south London MP has recounted the shock of receiving a homophobic death threat in an attempt to raise awareness of the abuse MPs face.
Elliot Colburn, who represents Carshalton and Wallington, received a letter that had been delivered to his constituency office, which contained homophobic slurs and a death threat.
The 28-year-old, who is currently engaged to Sutton councillor, Jed Dwight, said that while the incident was not acceptable, receiving abuse has become part and parcel of the job.
He said: “Whilst it was upsetting, sadly it wasn’t really a shock that something like this turned up because I would be surprised if I got through my first term as an MP without receiving something of this nature.
“More or less every single colleague I’ve spoken to has experienced something similar themselves, whether it’s targeting a particular characteristic of theirs or a specific threat – whatever it might be.
“Although it’s not surprising, it doesn’t make it any less shocking, particularly when they try to drag your families into it as well.”
Colburn’s comments come amid new figures which show the number of cases of homophobic hate crimes in London have risen by more than 30% in the last year alone.
Data from the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Dashboard show that reported incidents involving homophobia rose from 185 in the month of March 2020 to 266 in March of 2021 – an increase of 37.8%.
Of the 3,112 cases reported across the year, the borough of Lambeth saw one of the most dramatic spikes, with a total of 267 incidents – the highest across the capital.
Meanwhile, statistics from City Hall, published in January 2020, revealed an increase in the number of homophobic attacks in the capital by over 22% – amounting to almost 55 crimes a week.
Praising the work of the Metropolitan Police, the Conservative MP said he had every confidence that the incident had been taken seriously.
However, with the letter bearing no identifying marks and with CCTV footage having not captured the time of delivery, the MP said it’s unlikely the perpetrator will be caught.
He added: “We reported it to them straight away, as we are encouraged to report anything like that to the police. They picked up on it immediately, and arranged to come and get a statement and conduct an interview.
“They’ve seized the letter in the hope of finding some DNA evidence that they might be able to use to track down the person who sent it.
“My office has been closed for so long due to Covid and people have been working remotely, so unless there is DNA evidence on the letter and the person is on the police’s database, there’s very little that can be done.”
According to data from Freedom of Information requests to 46 police forces across the UK, fewer numbers of people are being prosecuted for homophobic hate crime despite an increase in the number of victims.
While reports of homophobic abuse in the UK increased by 7,723 between 2014 and 2019, the number of prosecutions dropped from 1,157 to 1,058 during the same period.
But for Colburn, it is still important for MPs to speak out.
After receiving the typed letter, he took to Twitter to share his experience, posting an image and writing: “Seems like a charming individual.
“I will not let threats to me or my family stop me standing up for Carshalton and Wallington. The police have been informed.”
The post received an outpouring of support, with a number of MPs from across the political divide writing to offer their support to the couple.
Colburn added: “I still think it’s important to speak out and report these things and do it in a public forum. Some people say MPs screenshot some of the abuse and that we do it for attention.
“This is absolutely not the case – we do it to highlight just what this job can involve, that we are also human beings and that no one should be subjected to that level of abuse.
“If you single out someone’s characteristic whether it be their gender, their sexuality, their race, their gender reassignment – it’s something very easy to pick out, and you know that it’s going to cause a lot of distress very quickly by honing in on it.
“That is part of the reason why myself and colleagues who have shared the abuse that we’ve received on social media continue to do so.
“I think it’s to demonstrate that MPs are not glorified punching bags and that you don’t just get a free pass to do things which would be unacceptable to another human being just because they’ve become an MP.
“Ever since I got elected, there has always been a low level of trolling which doesn’t cross the boundary of illegal content, especially online.
“So there’s always that undertone you have to contend with, and if you can’t deal with that, then sadly being an MP probably isn’t for you.
“That isn’t to say that it is acceptable that you should have to deal with that, it’s to say that sadly it’s part and parcel of the job now. And the sad thing is it’s putting a lot of really good people off from standing.”
Elected in 2019, and sitting as the vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hate Crime, Colburn believes his experience feeds into the rising levels of homophobic abuse within the capital.
In 2018, the APPG concluded in a report that there remained a “mountain to climb” when it comes to “dealing with hate crime and its impacts on community cohesion”.
Entitled How Do We Build Community Cohesion When Hate Crime Is On The Rise?, the report made a number of recommendations, including the use of restorative justice as a tool against hate crime offences.
Colburn said: “London is one the most diverse cities potentially not just in Europe, but in the Western World, and that is something that you would never think that therefore there is that high level of hate crime.
“But there is, sadly, and one of the things that I’ve loved about living in London is that I do feel safe in this city, but sadly there is still this rising level of hate crime.
“If London is going to boast itself as the most diverse city in Europe, then we need to make sure it’s a welcoming home for everyone who lives here.”