Councillors and staff in Gwynedd said they did not feel safe during a fractious debate on sex education.
The council was discussing the roll out of RSE (Relationships and Sexuality Education) in August when the meeting was interrupted by hecklers back. Warnings were given as proceedings were halted, police brought in, the public gallery cleared and councillors held back in the chamber for “safety reasons”.
The council has since adapted more robust “practical arrangements” for its Caernarfon chamber, following the interruption to the extraordinary meeting. The incident was discussed during a meeting of the Democratic Services Committee last Thursday.
During the meeting, councillors also shared experiences of “intimidation”.
It was reported Cllr Beca Brown was subjected to a targeted campaign after the August meeting, and Cllr Linda Ann Jones told the meeting she has also sought help from the police over comments made online.
Since the elections of 2022, councillor safety issues were becoming “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 lead to increased stress and more training, mental health counselling, and wellbeing support is available for councillors, who increasingly faced “harassment and stress”.
Cllr Jones said she had faced “a lot of difficulty” after the August meeting.
“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.”
The police went to the home of the perpetrator, and Cllr Jones “as left alone”.
The matters were reported to Iwan Evans, monitoring officer and head of legal services.
Cllr Dewi Owen said he “suffered similar difficulties a few years ago”, and the community council had “faced issues which put people off becoming councillors”.
“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.
“On TV there was a girl threatening men. We have concerns as councillors, it can happen to anyone. It is not just a matter for 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 sought councillors’ help.
“Violence and harassment suffered by some members had increased their stress”, and a Safe Leadership course has been adapted.
Risk assessments were “by now undertaken for each multi-location meeting, including the chamber and remote locations”.
Democratic and language services manager Vera Jones said efforts were being made to communicate what support was available to members.
Since August, there was more “collaboration with the health and safety department”.
Catrin Love, assistant head of corporate support, said improved safety steps included the chamber design but “more work on the public gallery was needed”.
Other safety initiatives included the use of lockers for the public to store bags, public gallery posters noting rules, a rope between the gallery and chamber, arrangements to hold a recess during disturbances, briefing chairpersons, and considerations over employing a security firm if the risk level was 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 more than a rope between the council chamber and public gallery.