A Conservative MP has defended giving a character reference to an activist who has been jailed for sending a message claiming he would pay ‘crackheads’ to beat up Labour’s Yvette Cooper.
Joshua Spencer, 25, described Mrs Cooper as a ‘wh***’ before saying, ‘I’m already organising to hurt her, it’s amazing what crack heads will do for £100’.
The chilling warning was issued during a heated political debate with a friend over social media, Leeds Magistrates Court heard today.
Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns released a statement insisting she stands by her decision to give the reference read in court.
She said: ‘I have known Joshua for a number of years. I stand by my decision to have given him a personal reference.
‘Josh has bipolar and had mental health issues since his father’s suicide in 2015 and I was, and remain, concerned about his emotional and mental well-being and wanted to make absolutely sure it was taken into consideration as part of the judicial process.
‘I will be seeking assurances that he will get the support he clearly needs as part of his rehabilitation.’
Sentencing Spencer, District Judge Marie Mallon described the offence as ‘particularly serious’.
She gave the 25-year-old, who ran for local office last year, a custodial sentence and handed him a restraining order restricting him from contacting Mrs Cooper for ten years.
In a victim impact statement read to the court Mrs Cooper said the threat had caused her ‘stress’, adding ‘intimidation and violence has no place in our politics’.
She also referenced her ‘friend’ Jo Cox, who was shot and killed by a far-right extremist in 2016.
The court heard Spencer made the threat on April 11 while debating with a friend he had previously met on a dating site.
His message to Paul Ratcliffe read: ‘She [Mrs Cooper] will pay. I’m already organising to hurt her, it’s amazing what crack heads will do for £100.
‘I’m going to get her beat up.’
Prosecutor Susannah Proctor told the court Mr Ratcliffe blocked Spencer immediately and reported the message to his local MP Hillary Benn’s office.
A Labour official forwarded the information to Mrs Cooper’s office, who became aware of the incident during a meeting on MPs’ safety.
A police report was filed and Spencer was arrested and questioned by officers on April 22.
The court heard Spencer campaigned publicly in the 2019 General Election alongside the Conservative candidate and attended the General Election count in December 2019 as a representative of the Conservative Party.
In a statement read out in court, Mrs Cooper said: ‘As a result of his political role he will have known my movements for campaign events such as hustings as well as the count.
‘My office had to inform the police about any event he might be present at, including the General Election count, as we had no idea whether or what kind of threat he might pose.’
Spencer pleaded guilty to sending malicious communication at an earlier court hearing, but Mrs Cooper said he had shown ‘no remorse’.
Her statement continued: ‘To my knowledge, he has at no time apologised or shown any remorse for the threatening communication he sent, nor have I seen anything which shows he recognises the seriousness of his actions.
‘He has continued to email my office since the investigation and also since being charged with the offence.’
She added: ‘Disagreement and debate are a healthy part of our politics. But violent threats, intimidation and abuse, online or offline, undermine our democracy.
‘MPs across the country, particularly women MPs, have unfortunately become accustomed to a continued stream of abuse online and threats from a small number of people, often on the extreme fringes of politics.
‘But this behaviour is not normal, and we must never treat it as so.’
Mrs Cooper said Spencer, who lives in her Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford constituency, has continued to contact her office on a ‘regular’ basis.
She described him as an ‘active member of the local Conservative party’ and ‘prominent in mainstream local politics’.
The court heard Spencer, who’s unemployed, organised a ‘hostile’ demonstration outside Mrs Cooper’s constituency office in June last year.
In the wake of that event the MP tweeted there had been calls for her to be ‘burnt’ from the crowd.
It was heard one of the MP’s advisers, Jade Botterill, gave up her job as a result of the constant abuse she and her colleagues received from people with opposing political beliefs.
In an impact statement read by the prosecutor, Miss Botterill said she had nightmares about Mrs Cooper being attacked and that she was ‘constantly on edge’.
Spencer appeared in court today wearing a dark suit and dark tie alongside his barrister Sheik Amin.
Mr Amin told the district judge his client was ‘very sorry’ for what he’d done and that he suffers from various mental health issues.
He was in a particularly difficult place on April 11 and was having suicidal thoughts, the court heard.
The defence barrister read a character reference from MP Andrea Jenkyns, who knows Spencer and said she was ‘stunned’ to hear about what he did.
Before being taken to the cells, Spencer said: ‘I’m extremely sorry for any upset caused, I’m genuinely sorry.’