Man jailed over voicemail death threats to ‘anti-Brexit’ MPs

Dominic Grieve, Nick Boles, and Sir Keir Starmer also received threats. Photograph: House of Commons

Dominic Grieve, Nick Boles, and Sir Keir Starmer also received threats. Photograph: House of Commons. - Credit: Archant

A pro-Brexit father-of-three who left voicemails containing death threats for serving Members of Parliament has been jailed.

Robert Vidler, 64, hurled expletives and threatened violence in calls to the offices of Labour and Conservative MPs in January this year, a court heard.

A trial at City of London Magistrates' Court was told that voicemails were intercepted by members of staff working for independent Grantham and Stamford MP Nick Boles and Beaconsfield Tory MP Dominic Grieve.

Calls were also picked up by staff at the offices of shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, Brent North Labour MP Barry Gardiner, former education secretary and current Loughborough Tory MP Nicky Morgan, and Darlington Labour MP Jenny Chapman, the court heard.

Vidler, from west Harrow in London, denied five charges of harassment without violence against MPs' staff and three counts of sending menacing or obscene messages or material over a public communications network.

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Prosecutor Philip Stott told the court the calls were made to the offices of MPs "considered to be anti-Brexit".

"The calls were all made from the defendant's mobile telephone," Stott added.

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"He states that he did not make the calls and someone else must have done so using his telephone."

Several of the short voicemail recordings left by Vidler were played to the court.

In one message left for Boles on January 13, picked up by the MP's personal assistant, Jane Gordon-Cumming, Vidler said: "Nick Boles, if you f*** up Brexit we will cut your f***** throat. We know where you live and we know your f****** timetable and we ain't joking."

A voicemail from January 12, received by Philip Dumville, who worked for Grieve, said: "Hello, Mr Grieve. We know your f***** timetable and we know where you f****** live, ok?"

The court also heard that Yasmeen Sebbana, parliamentary assistant to Sir Keir, answered a call on January 16 in which Vidler told her: "Keir Starmer is a walking f****** dead man. He is a traitor and I am going to cut his neck."

Stott said Vidler was arrested after voluntarily attending Harrow police station in January and handing over his phone.

An analysis of its contents revealed Google searches for the MPs and text messages to Vidler's daughter in which he shared his pro-Brexit views.

Vidler labelled politicians "absolute scumbags" and said the "Brexit fiddle" was making him angry, the court was told.

Giving evidence, Vidler said he had "no idea" how the calls came to be made from his pay-as-you-go mobile phone.

"I support Brexit, yes, I admit that, but not to the extent that I would phone up people. I wouldn't waste my time and money doing that," he said.

Vidler said he would not have handed over his phone if it was him making the calls, and denied carrying out web searches for MPs.

Deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram found Vidler guilty of all the charges after hearing what he described as "overwhelming" evidence against the defendant.

Ikram said: "The nature of these calls included, effectively, death threats, but they had a common theme that (they) were all motivated by a desire to leave the European Union in very forthright and aggressive terms."

In reaching his verdict, Ikram said he was not analysing the voice on the calls, but took into account their timing, frequency, consistent message and Vidler's own views.

"You contacted Members of Parliament and threatened them physically, you attempted to stifle their legitimate political views," he told Vidler.

Ikram said the offences were committed "with the backdrop (of) a Member of Parliament having previously been murdered" - an apparent reference to the killing of Batley and Spen Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016.

Ikram said the impact on Vidler's victims would have been "profound", adding that the offences undermined "the free democratic society in which we live".

The court heard that Vidler, who admitted to having a "drink problem", had 18 previous convictions dating back to 2002, including for causing criminal damage, being drunk and disorderly, and assaulting a police constable.

He was sentenced to 18 weeks for each of the eight offences, all to be served concurrently, and ordered to pay £300 costs and a £115 victim surcharge.

He was also made subject to a criminal behaviour order which prevents him from contacting any MP except his own.

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