A Brexit campaign worker was yesterday jailed for sending then-Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson “chilling” emails threatening her young child.
Political designer Zac Damon, who worked for Vote Leave and UKIP, left the former MP so terrified over her son’s safety she had to put in extra security at his nursery.
Damon, 40, sent emails to the mother-of two-calling her a “first class c**t” and warning her to “take extra care” of her little boy.
A judge said the shocking threats reflected how some had used the Brexit campaign “in the most obscene way” to attack people with different opinions.
Ms Swinson, who received the emails during her four-and-a-half month tenure as Lib Dem leader, said she “felt sick” when she opened the messages at Parliament.
She added: “All I wanted to do was hug my child close”.
The former politician revealed that in her personal role she was used to “shrugging off” abuse but said threats to her children were “past the line” of acceptability.
In a victim impact statement, she admitted that the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox had changed how she felt she should deal with abuse.
Ms Swinson, the Lib Dems’ first female leader and the youngest person to hold the position, stood down in December last year after losing her seat at the general election.
She said: “This incident affected me, my husband and our wider family so much that I feel a line really must be drawn, that a threat to a child is such a long way past the line of what is acceptable.
“People have asked me how I have dealt with trolling and abuse.
“Often, this has been younger women who are thinking about getting further involved in activism, campaigning, and public life.
“One of the reasons why this incident was so upsetting for me, and indeed remains so, is because it feels like part of a wider pattern of abusers and internet trolls seeking to stop elected people, and those seeking elected office, from doing their jobs and working for the greater good in public life.
“I fear that many of the next generation look at the cost of standing up for what you believe in and conclude that silence is the safer path.
“I worry deeply about what this means for the future of our democracy.”
District Judge Tan Ikram told the court: “This was a threat to a high profile figure whose position on Brexit was clear and you were working on the other side.”
Damon, from Portsmouth, Hants, designs logos and social media posters for political campaigns, stating pro-Brexit Tory MP Penny Mordaunt as one of his clients.
Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court heard that on September 9 last year he sent Swinson an email which said: “You are utterly pathetic and a first class c**t.”
On September 25, he sent another. It read: “You might want to take extra care of that little son of yours, if not now when he begins school in the future.”
The judge sentenced Damon to 12 weeks in jail, of which he will serve less than half.
Prosecutor Rhys Evans said: “Damon said he sent the second email as he was genuinely worried about threats he saw online, but by virtue of him changing his not guilty plea to guilty, he has abandoned that line of defence. It clearly caused her and her family substantial distress and fear.”
Ms Swinson revealed she even had to visit her child’s nursery to tell them about the threat and have security do a sweep of the site.
She added: “Receiving this was chilling, I felt sick. I was at work in Parliament at the time and all I wanted to do was hug my child close.
“I didn’t know if they were deliberately planning to target my child.
“Telling my mum and in-laws was really difficult because I knew how much they would worry.
“My husband describes the horrible feeling of looking over his shoulder when he was walking our child to nursery.
“I thought I was pretty used to the abuse I have received over the years but this was difficult.
“It strikes at the very heart of wanting to protect your children. A threat to children is so past the line.”
Judge Ikram, who also gave Damon a two-year restraining order preventing him from contacting the ex-MP, said: “It can’t be said that you are a man who has shown regret.
“You were working for the Conservative, Brexit and UKIP parties, for their social media and posters. You knew the power of messaging because that’s the industry that you are in.
“It does not matter what point you were trying to make, it’s the profound impact that it had on the victims.
“You called the leader of the Liberal Democrat party a ‘first class c**t’. I don’t ever use that word, I use it now because it’s a powerful word.
“I have no doubt that politicians are used to the rough and tough but it should not be like that.
“They accept it, sadly it is part of a politician’s work but after that you sent a second email which was clearly a threat.
“This must be seen in the context of a politician seeing a colleague murdered.”
The Judge added: “It is in the context of the Brexit campaign being used and abused in the most obscene way to abuse people who don’t agree with what you say.
“Politicians are public servants who devote their life trying to make the world a better place. Threats like this deter good people from entering public service.”
Lawyer Simon Moger, defending Damon, said he “wants to extend his apologies to Swinson and her family”.
He said his client was “upset that he caused distress and is more mindful now” but the Judge refused to accept his suggestion this was impulsive behaviour.
Damon admitted sending indecent or grossly offensive emails to cause distress or anxiety, having originally denied it.
On his ‘political and social media branding’ website, Damon claims his clients include the Vote Leave 2016 referendum campaign, Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, NHS England, UKIP, and a series of American politicians including Ted Cruz.
The website’s disclaimer states: “I am not a member of or affiliated to any government or community organisation or political party.
“Although I follow current affairs closely, enjoy my right to free speech and may express my opinion on social media, my own world view and personal political persuasion does not influence or affect the work I do or determine the clients I work for, in any way.”