United Kingdom

Businessman who bombarded MPs with 'vile' emails is jailed for a year

Paul Ritchie, 34, has been jailed for a year for bombarding MPs with a string of 'vile' emails including death threats

A businessman who bombarded MPs with a string of 'vile' emails including death threats has been jailed for a year.

Paul Ritchie, 34, pleaded guilty to 28 counts of sending an electronic communication with intent to cause distress or anxiety over a six-month period between March and August 2019.

His victims included former Commons speaker John Bercow, ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, former home secretary Amber Rudd and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford. 

Others targeted were former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC, ex-Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, her successor Sir Ed Davey, and one-time London mayoral candidate and Cabinet minister Rory Stewart.

Ritchie was traced through two email addresses, including one linked to his business Snapr - a property services booking website - and arrested at his flat in Paddington, central London.

Judge Adam Hiddleston jailed Ritchie, of Dolphinton in Lanarkshire, for a year at Southwark Crown Court on Friday.

'I have no doubt that you did harbour a deep-seated animosity to those who held opposing views to your own and that appeared to have been your motivation,' the judge said.

His victims included former Commons speaker John Bercow, ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who he described as a 'terrorist' who 'should be hung for treason'

Ritchie, of Lanarkshire, pleaded guilty to 28 counts of sending an electronic communication with intent to cause distress or anxiety over a six-month period between March and August 2019

'The contents of those emails were vile.

'They included threats of violence, such as threats to shoot someone in the face and threats to kill, such as by way of decapitation.

'Those threats were not just directed towards the individuals but also in some case to their families as well.

'Those who received the emails would no doubt be left in fear for their personal safety and that of their loved ones.'

Prosecutor Ruby Selva earlier said Ritchie's victims had told of their 'upset, feelings of being unsettled and fear for their personal safety'.

She said Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price reported feeling 'unsettled, upset and concerned for his safety' after receiving an email telling him 'you deserve to get shot in the face you p****', while having dinner with his family following an appearance to discuss Brexit on the Andrew Marr Show.

Ritchie, from Lanarkshire, Scotland, also told former Home Secretary Amber Rudd (pictured) she 'faced being assassinated'

Chuka Umunna (left) and John Bercow were also the victims of malicious emails sent by Ritchie as current Speaker Sir Lindsey Hoyle told the court he should face the 'full force of the law'

In a statement to the court, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said 'the level of abuse, threats and intimidation' received by MPs had increased following the terrorist murder of Jo Cox.

'Those responsible should face the full force of the law at the appropriate level,' he said.

'The members should feel safe in the knowledge they are able to perform their role in democracy.'

 A message Ritchie sent to Mr Corbyn in March 2019 read: 'You should be hung for treason you f****** terrorist.'

Judge Adam Hiddleston, jailing Ritchie, said: 'I have no doubt that you did harbour a deep-seated animosity to those who held opposing views to your own and that appeared to have been your motivation'

The same month, he sent an email to John Bercow's Speaker's Office saying: 'One in 17 million is bad odds for some nutter to pull a Jo Cox on you and your staff.'

A week later, he wrote: 'Be careful ... (y)ou wouldn't want to get run over.'

In other messages to Mr Bercow's office, Ritchie threatened: 'I'm going to milkshake you, you prick.' And he made references to Brexit and democracy.

In an email in May 2019 to former MP Chuka Umunna, who represented several parties, Ritchie wrote: 'You have been warned ... shut your f****** mouth boy.'

In July, he said: 'If you kill Brexit ... (w)e will kill you and your entire family.'

Southwark Crown Court heard that despite appearing to be pro-Brexit with the rhetoric used in his emails, Ritchie actually 'voted the opposite way' as his lawyer argued the messages did not reflect his political views 

And he told Mr Stewart in June 2019: 'If you block Brexit ... you like likely (sic) be assassinated.'

But the court heard, despite appearing to be pro-Brexit with the rhetoric used in his emails, Ritchie actually 'voted the opposite way' as his lawyer argued the messages did not reflect his political views. 

Emma Fenn, defending, said Ritchie felt 'genuine remorse and shame at the content of these messages', which 'do not bear any resemblance to his political views', with repeated references to Brexit despite him 'voting in the opposite direction'.

'He is a businessman, an educated man, who is really currently struggling, and who has unravelled,' she added.

The court heard Ritchie was suffering with depression and had been abusing drugs and alcohol at the time of the offences.

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