MP Tim Loughton accuses Sussex Police of threatening parliamentary free speech

Tim Loughton talks to the committee today

Tim Loughton talks to the committee today

First published in News
Last updated

UPDATE: Sussex Police has been accused of threatening the principle of parliamentary free speech by sending a notice to Tim Loughton MP warning him not to harass a constituent.

East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton said the police information notice (PIN) was issued by the Sussex force after he sent Kieran Francis a copy of Hansard - the record of parliamentary proceedings - containing a speech he made to the House of Commons about a long-running dispute between them.

Appearing before the Commons Privileges Committee, Sussex Police chief constable Martin Richards and his former assistant chief constable Robin Merrett apologised for the wording of the notice and for failings in their understanding of parliamentary privilege, but insisted they stood by the decision to issue it. Mr Richards made clear that he had not apologised to the MP himself.

Mr Loughton told the committee that after years of abuse, both face-to-face and on the internet, he decided last March to tell the Commons he was "sacking Mr Francis as my constituent".

On the advice of the Clerk of the Commons, he sent a copy of Hansard containing the announcement to his constituent by post, with an unsigned Commons cover slip, as a way of informing him he intended to have no further communication.

Sussex Police sent Mr Loughton a PIN, warning that his constituent saw it as part of a campaign of "collective harassment" and that any further behaviour of this kind could leave him liable to prosecution.

Mr Loughton told the committee: "The notion that... the mere sending of the parliamentary record of the House of Commons can constitute an offence of harassment is extraordinary, bizarre and deeply worrying for the way we do our business in this place.

He said that the force's decision to send the notice without taking legal advice or consulting the Commons authorities "strikes me as extreme arrogance, not ignorance" and said it was "completely out of sorts" with Association of Chief Police Officers guidance on the use of PINs.

Mr Loughton said he had nothing to do with a series of anonymous letters which Mr Francis had apparently received. But he said that the PIN's use of the words "collective harassment" appeared to suggest he was "some sort of mafia boss" orchestrating a campaign of abuse.

He warned that MPs' freedom to speak freely and robustly had been "limited by the extraordinary, discretionary, arbitrary and highly subjective actions of Sussex Police, with the absolute endorsement of the chief constable".

He told the cross-party committee of backbench MPs the incident had made him "think twice" before speaking out about issues of concern to his constituents, adding: "I have been put through a huge amount of stress, personal hurt to me and my family and it has seriously impacted on my ability to do the job I was elected to do.

"This case, I think, has very significant implications for the way all of us go about our business in this House and must be challenged, otherwise every time we seek to write a letter to our constituents, every time we seek to raise something in a debate in this House, potentially we will have to seek the permission of the chief constable before we do it, or else risk being subjected to a complaint that could lead to criminal action. I find that deeply chilling."

Mr Merrett, who retired in December, told the committee that PINs were sent to half a dozen people last September in a bid to calm down what had become an "entrenched" dispute between them. Police were also pursuing other ideas, such as mediation between the feuding parties.

"The PIN was an attempt by us to draw a line in the sand regarding the various allegations we had received concerning harassment and give everyone fair notice that people were being genuinely upset by what other people were doing," he said.

Mr Merrett accepted that the police had no evidence linking Mr Loughton to other anonymous letters sent to Mr Francis, but said that he could "understand" how he could have felt alarmed by receiving the copy of Hansard with no indication of who had sent it.

The PIN was not intended to warn the MP that he should not in future send extracts of Hansard to constituents, said Mr Merrett. But he told the committee: "I fully accept and apologise that the wording of the PIN could have been clearer on that point."

He acknowledged that he was "mistakenly confident" about his understanding of parliamentary privilege, and did not realise that the 1840 Parliamentary Papers Act gave full legal protection to MPs sending out copies of reports of proceedings in the House.

"I apologise to the House and this committee for not being aware of the 1840 Act," said Mr Merrett, but added: "I fully support the sending of the PIN."

Mr Richards told the MPs that the force had received legal advice from a QC, after the PIN was issued, that it did not breach parliamentary privilege. But he accepted that there was "conflicting" advice from Commons clerks and said police would welcome guidance.

The PIN was "not a threat, it was information" and was never intended to be seen as a precursor to prosecution, he said.

Mr Richards said he was "extremely sorry" that the force had not been aware of the 1840 Act.

"Our knowledge was not as strong as it should have been in my view and I have apologised for that," he said. "I would say, however, that we are receiving conflicting advices from leading counsel and from the clerk on that issue."

Asked if he had apologised directly to Mr Loughton, Mr Richards replied: "No. I have explained and apologised to this committee."

Committee member Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon, told the chief constable that the police had "blundered" by sending the PIN without properly understanding the law on privilege and warned: "This has a chilling effect potentially on the actions of MPs and it is a very, very serious action.

"Wouldn't you agree that neither you nor your force had a proper appreciation of the gravity of what you were doing by the sending of this notice?"

The Clerk of the Commons Sir Robert Rogers told the committee that the 1840 Act gave complete protection to Mr Loughton.

Sir Robert told the MPs he would have been astonished to think that a single copy of Hansard could result in harassment proceedings, and said MPs would have to be "telepathic" to be able to foresee the reaction of a recipient.

Comments (12)

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9:17am Tue 28 Jan 14

clubrob6 says...

Basically the MP does not like to be challenged so he wastes public money to try to get his way.
Basically the MP does not like to be challenged so he wastes public money to try to get his way. clubrob6
  • Score: -8

9:58am Tue 28 Jan 14

Indigatio says...

No matter what your political views, Tim Loughton is a **** good, and very hard working, constituency MP. Sussex Police should never have gotten involved in this matter. Like Fredaj I have scanned through Mr Francis's blog. Outspoken would be a very mild description. He also seems to have an intense dislike of Mr Loughton.
In the context of Mr Francis's attacks on Mr Loughton I think Mr Loughton's replies are quite justified and as for being racist, to use a term used by both parties - b******s !
No matter what your political views, Tim Loughton is a **** good, and very hard working, constituency MP. Sussex Police should never have gotten involved in this matter. Like Fredaj I have scanned through Mr Francis's blog. Outspoken would be a very mild description. He also seems to have an intense dislike of Mr Loughton. In the context of Mr Francis's attacks on Mr Loughton I think Mr Loughton's replies are quite justified and as for being racist, to use a term used by both parties - b******s ! Indigatio
  • Score: 0

10:46am Tue 28 Jan 14

michael505 says...

Mr Loughton needs to get on with his job and stop wasting any more time and money. If he breaks the law then he needs to be dealt with like anyone else. He admits that he has let his standards drop so there you go. You cannot lower yourself to someone else's level and he has done this so get over it.
Mr Loughton needs to get on with his job and stop wasting any more time and money. If he breaks the law then he needs to be dealt with like anyone else. He admits that he has let his standards drop so there you go. You cannot lower yourself to someone else's level and he has done this so get over it. michael505
  • Score: 0

11:38am Tue 28 Jan 14

emma_barnes says...

Police in no win situation. If they "do nothing " the other guy complains - then IPCC get a letter from him etc. - so it has to be looked at. Its the way things are these days, however time wasting. Why not send a FOI request to Sussex Police asking how many "Facebook threats" are having to be investigated. Mainly name calling playground stuff.
Police in no win situation. If they "do nothing " the other guy complains - then IPCC get a letter from him etc. - so it has to be looked at. Its the way things are these days, however time wasting. Why not send a FOI request to Sussex Police asking how many "Facebook threats" are having to be investigated. Mainly name calling playground stuff. emma_barnes
  • Score: 4

1:17pm Tue 28 Jan 14

Number Six says...

michael505 wrote:
Mr Loughton needs to get on with his job and stop wasting any more time and money. If he breaks the law then he needs to be dealt with like anyone else. He admits that he has let his standards drop so there you go. You cannot lower yourself to someone else's level and he has done this so get over it.
He's my MP and he's doing his job just fine.
[quote][p][bold]michael505[/bold] wrote: Mr Loughton needs to get on with his job and stop wasting any more time and money. If he breaks the law then he needs to be dealt with like anyone else. He admits that he has let his standards drop so there you go. You cannot lower yourself to someone else's level and he has done this so get over it.[/p][/quote]He's my MP and he's doing his job just fine. Number Six
  • Score: 1

2:47pm Tue 28 Jan 14

PaulOckenden says...

In the matter of this particular issue, both parties seem as bad as each other. The aforementioned blog is quite a read, and tells you much about Mr Francis. But on the other hand, I think our MP was quite out of order to use parliamentary privilege to air his grievances with one constituent. So in this respect, I see both parties as contemptible.

On the other hand, as a constituency MP I have nothing but praise for Mr Loughton. I might detest his politics, but he's always on call for local issues, and is happy to get stuck in trying to get local problems sorted.
In the matter of this particular issue, both parties seem as bad as each other. The aforementioned blog is quite a read, and tells you much about Mr Francis. But on the other hand, I think our MP was quite out of order to use parliamentary privilege to air his grievances with one constituent. So in this respect, I see both parties as contemptible. On the other hand, as a constituency MP I have nothing but praise for Mr Loughton. I might detest his politics, but he's always on call for local issues, and is happy to get stuck in trying to get local problems sorted. PaulOckenden
  • Score: 4

4:02pm Tue 28 Jan 14

michael505 says...

What a complete waste of time. Forget the 1840 Act, Mr Loughton was rude and arrogant in his emails and that was why he was interviewed. It is time that MP's were stopped from hiding behind Parliamnetary privilege. If they are protected then the public should be protected as well. I have sent Mr Loughton emails and know first hand how rude and arrogant he can be.
What a complete waste of time. Forget the 1840 Act, Mr Loughton was rude and arrogant in his emails and that was why he was interviewed. It is time that MP's were stopped from hiding behind Parliamnetary privilege. If they are protected then the public should be protected as well. I have sent Mr Loughton emails and know first hand how rude and arrogant he can be. michael505
  • Score: 3

5:29pm Tue 28 Jan 14

Quiterie says...

When you're in public office you tend to attract characters like Kieran Francis. You can either take the moral high ground and do your best to ignore him, or you can behave like a petulant little child, throw your toys out of the pram and waste time complaining and using up valuable parliamentary time in the process.

I know what I'd have done. Unfortunately Loughton has chosen to behave like a screaming toddler. He should get over this spat and get on with his job.
When you're in public office you tend to attract characters like Kieran Francis. You can either take the moral high ground and do your best to ignore him, or you can behave like a petulant little child, throw your toys out of the pram and waste time complaining and using up valuable parliamentary time in the process. I know what I'd have done. Unfortunately Loughton has chosen to behave like a screaming toddler. He should get over this spat and get on with his job. Quiterie
  • Score: 6

5:51pm Tue 28 Jan 14

Vigilia says...

"Sussex Police warn of phone con after people being urged to call £1,500-a-minute number."
Is this the same Sussex Police involved in this equally absurd issue?
"Sussex Police warn of phone con after people being urged to call £1,500-a-minute number." Is this the same Sussex Police involved in this equally absurd issue? Vigilia
  • Score: 4

7:57am Wed 29 Jan 14

alyn, southwick says...

Number Six wrote:
michael505 wrote:
Mr Loughton needs to get on with his job and stop wasting any more time and money. If he breaks the law then he needs to be dealt with like anyone else. He admits that he has let his standards drop so there you go. You cannot lower yourself to someone else's level and he has done this so get over it.
He's my MP and he's doing his job just fine.
He's my MP, but I wouldn't know it - he's doing an awful job, because he only serves the few - hence him trying the undemocratic stance of "sacking" a constituent.
[quote][p][bold]Number Six[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]michael505[/bold] wrote: Mr Loughton needs to get on with his job and stop wasting any more time and money. If he breaks the law then he needs to be dealt with like anyone else. He admits that he has let his standards drop so there you go. You cannot lower yourself to someone else's level and he has done this so get over it.[/p][/quote]He's my MP and he's doing his job just fine.[/p][/quote]He's my MP, but I wouldn't know it - he's doing an awful job, because he only serves the few - hence him trying the undemocratic stance of "sacking" a constituent. alyn, southwick
  • Score: -4

11:43pm Tue 4 Feb 14

Isaac Rinkfern says...

Indigatio wrote:
No matter what your political views, Tim Loughton is a **** good, and very hard working, constituency MP. Sussex Police should never have gotten involved in this matter. Like Fredaj I have scanned through Mr Francis's blog. Outspoken would be a very mild description. He also seems to have an intense dislike of Mr Loughton.
In the context of Mr Francis's attacks on Mr Loughton I think Mr Loughton's replies are quite justified and as for being racist, to use a term used by both parties - b******s !
You need to pull your head out of your ****, you talk of my "attacks" and Loughton's "replies", this is about as backward as you appear to be.
Your claims about this being a "racist" matter are also complete bo**ocks, as there was no such investigation, it was only presented as such, under privilege along with countless other lies, so that the abusive Loughton coukld paint himself as some kind of victim to the press.
His kids never received death threats from us, sadly the same isn't true in reverse.
[quote][p][bold]Indigatio[/bold] wrote: No matter what your political views, Tim Loughton is a **** good, and very hard working, constituency MP. Sussex Police should never have gotten involved in this matter. Like Fredaj I have scanned through Mr Francis's blog. Outspoken would be a very mild description. He also seems to have an intense dislike of Mr Loughton. In the context of Mr Francis's attacks on Mr Loughton I think Mr Loughton's replies are quite justified and as for being racist, to use a term used by both parties - b******s ![/p][/quote]You need to pull your head out of your ****, you talk of my "attacks" and Loughton's "replies", this is about as backward as you appear to be. Your claims about this being a "racist" matter are also complete bo**ocks, as there was no such investigation, it was only presented as such, under privilege along with countless other lies, so that the abusive Loughton coukld paint himself as some kind of victim to the press. His kids never received death threats from us, sadly the same isn't true in reverse. Isaac Rinkfern
  • Score: 0

11:50pm Tue 4 Feb 14

Isaac Rinkfern says...

PaulOckenden wrote:
In the matter of this particular issue, both parties seem as bad as each other. The aforementioned blog is quite a read, and tells you much about Mr Francis. But on the other hand, I think our MP was quite out of order to use parliamentary privilege to air his grievances with one constituent. So in this respect, I see both parties as contemptible.

On the other hand, as a constituency MP I have nothing but praise for Mr Loughton. I might detest his politics, but he's always on call for local issues, and is happy to get stuck in trying to get local problems sorted.
You sound like some kind of expert.
Sadly you are not, you know nothing aside from what you read in the heavily manipulated media. If you think that you know the full story, how come this piece names myself, yet allows me absolutely no right of reply.
When I called the Argus to either remove my name or permit me to reply, they flatly refused, you may think that this is acceptable, but you haven't had numerous lies about you spread worldwide by people who never bothered to check their validity, or allow a fair and equal response. When you have experienced a media witch hunt with vile journalists spreading filthy lies about you, I will care for your opinions.
If you think that Loughton works on local issues, I can only assume that you are affluent and middle classed, because he doesn't assist anyone else.
[quote][p][bold]PaulOckenden[/bold] wrote: In the matter of this particular issue, both parties seem as bad as each other. The aforementioned blog is quite a read, and tells you much about Mr Francis. But on the other hand, I think our MP was quite out of order to use parliamentary privilege to air his grievances with one constituent. So in this respect, I see both parties as contemptible. On the other hand, as a constituency MP I have nothing but praise for Mr Loughton. I might detest his politics, but he's always on call for local issues, and is happy to get stuck in trying to get local problems sorted.[/p][/quote]You sound like some kind of expert. Sadly you are not, you know nothing aside from what you read in the heavily manipulated media. If you think that you know the full story, how come this piece names myself, yet allows me absolutely no right of reply. When I called the Argus to either remove my name or permit me to reply, they flatly refused, you may think that this is acceptable, but you haven't had numerous lies about you spread worldwide by people who never bothered to check their validity, or allow a fair and equal response. When you have experienced a media witch hunt with vile journalists spreading filthy lies about you, I will care for your opinions. If you think that Loughton works on local issues, I can only assume that you are affluent and middle classed, because he doesn't assist anyone else. Isaac Rinkfern
  • Score: 0

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