Man jailed over 'sinister' Facebook threat to kill Tory MP Caroline Ansell


A factory worker has been jailed for four months for posting on Facebook a "sinister and menacing" threat to stab a Conservative MP to death.

Mark Sands, 51, was sentenced at Brighton Magistrates' Court for making the post against Eastbourne and Willingdon MP Caroline Ansell.

He pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a charge of "sending via electronic communications a message that was grossly offensive".

The court was told that Sands wrote: "If you vote to take £30 off my money, I will personally come round to your house... and stab you to death."

On his Facebook profile under the title Work, Sands wrote: "The Killing Fields, Trainee Murderer."

He also posted other messages including "End poverty, kill a Tory now".

Under his political views, magistrates heard Sands had "Kill your local MP", and a picture of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox also featured on his page with the words "sawn-off 2.2".

Martina Sherlock, prosecuting, told the court that following his arrest, Sands told a mental health nurse: "It's not like I killed her, maybe I should."

Jailing Sands and issuing a restraining order on him not to contact Mrs Ansell, District Judge Christopher James said that the offence was so serious that only a custodial sentence was appropriate.

He said: "It was clearly designed to instil fear in her and it has succeeded in that intent by unsettling and unnerving her deeply."

He added that the defendant's Facebook page had a series of menacing posts which included references to the murdered MPs Ian Gow and Jo Cox.

District Judge James said: "This was not an isolated incident that could be said to be out of character, this was the most extreme post in a series of derogatory posts to MPs including Caroline Ansell."

In a victim impact statement read in court, Mrs Ansell said she found the threats "chilling" and they led her to close her personal Facebook account.

Her statement went on: "It felt like a brush with something sinister."

Madeleine Priestley, defending Sands, of Upperton Gardens, Eastbourne, said that her client had wrongly believed that Mrs Ansell had voted for a cut to disability benefit that would have affected his income.

Describing the comment as the "mistake of his life", she said: "It wasn't intended for a wider audience of millions, it was just an empty threat, he wasn't thinking, just venting political frustration.

"He accepts he targeted Mrs Ansell who is the MP for the area where he lives, serving the public and didn't deserve any of the antagonism.

"He has apologised for the harm he has caused her and her family."

Ms Priestley added that Sands suffered from anxiety, low moods, paranoia, agoraphobia and had a "high-functioning autism spectrum condition".

Mrs Ansell welcomed the sentence as a deterrent to others.

She said in a statement released after the hearing: "I am relieved this very distressing incident is now over and I thank Sussex Police and the Crown Prosecution Service for the way they have handled the case.

"The threat made against me was very upsetting, especially for my family and close friends, and I would not wish it on anyone to experience such a thing.

"I do not have any anger towards Mark Sands for what he has done, but many people in public life, particularly women, have to contend with similar abuse and threats on social media sometimes every day, and it is time it was stopped.

"On that basis, I do welcome the court imposing a prison sentence today.

"The message needs to go out that posting such threats is utterly wrong and it has an adverse effect, not only on the person it is directed to, but also their family and friends.

"As a politician, I fully accept to be disagreed with and I fully accept people have strong feelings about what happens in our country.

"However, the line between the rough and tumble of political debate and abuse has blurred.

"My strong view is this needs to be more effectively dealt with by society making it clear it is unacceptable and by social media providers such as Facebook and Twitter better policing content.

"Finally, I would like to thank the member of the public who called the police when they saw the threat posted online."