Gwynedd councillors left feeling ‘unsafe’ after meeting on sex education interrupted by hecklers
Councillors and staff from Gwynedd Council have revealed how they were left feeling unsafe during a fractious debate on sex education.
The local authority was discussing the roll out of RSE (Relationships and Sexuality Education) when the meeting was interrupted by hecklers back in August.
Warnings were given as proceedings were halted, police brought in and the public gallery cleared, while councillors were held back in the Dafydd Orwig chamber for “safety reasons”.
Cyngor Gwynedd said it has since adapted more robust “practical arrangements” for its Caernarfon chamber, following the interruption to the extraordinary meeting of the council.
The incident was discussed during a meeting of the democratic services committee on Thursday where councillors also shared other experiences of “intimidation”.
Councillor Beca Brown revealed how she was subjected to a targeted campaign after the August meeting, while Cllr Linda Ann Jones told the meeting she had also sought help from police over comments made online.
Since the May elections of 2022, councillor safety issues are said to have become “more apparent in the light of national and council incidents, and to individual councillors”, a report discussed at the meeting said.
Harassment suffered by members could also lead to increased stress, it warned.
More training, mental health counselling, and wellbeing support are now available for councillors following the incident.
Cllr Jones told the meeting she had faced “a lot of difficulty” after the August meeting.
She said: “I’m not on Facebook, but friends sent me messages about the things that were being said. I felt intimated.
“I went to the police, they started to track it, but it still carried on.”
Cllr Jones said the police went to the home of the perpetrator, and she was then left alone.
The matter was also reported to Iwan Evans, the council’s monitoring officer and head of legal services.
Cllr Dewi Owen said he had suffered similar problems in the past, and the community council had “faced issues which put people off becoming councillors”.
He said: “People won’t turn up to meetings, they don’t want to be intimidated. It becomes a concern.
“You see it on the news, social media, people can use apps against you.
“We have concerns as councillors, it can happen to anyone. It is not just a matter for Cyngor Gwynedd but all Wales.”
Introducing the report, head of corporate support Ian Jones described how “work pressures and strain of living costs” meant more people were seeking local councillors’ help.
He said: “Violence and harassment suffered by some members has increased their stress.”
Risk assessments are now being undertaken for each meeting, including those held in the council chamber and remote locations.
Democratic and language services manager Vera Jones said efforts were being made to communicate what support was available to members.
Catrin Love, assistant head of corporate support, said improved safety steps included the chamber design, but added “more work on the public gallery was needed”.
Other safety initiatives include the use of lockers for the public to store bags, public gallery posters noting meeting rules, a rope being put between the gallery and chamber, arrangements to hold a recess during disturbances, and considerations over employing a security firm if the risk level is considered high.
Cllr Cai Larson also called for stronger measures against councillors who breached rules.
Cllr Stephen Churchman described the August meeting as “most frightening” and “unique”.
He said: “We’ve seen physical attacks against politicians and have to take the threat to our safety seriously, we must be mindful it could happen again.”
He called for something more robust than a rope to be used to separate the council chamber and public gallery.
By Dale Spridgeon – Local Democracy Reporter
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