St Albans councillors are to look at the bullying and harassment of councillors by residents – and the support they should receive.

Cllr Mary Maynard highlighted abuse that was being targeted at councillors – usually women – across the country at a meeting of St Albans City and District Council last Wednesday.

Among the examples highlighted were women councillors who had received 100 death threats, had faeces pushed through their letter boxes, received harassing phone calls and emails and been punched in the face.

Cllr Maynard, leader of the Conservative group on the council, said that typically they had been targeted because they were a leader in the community and the council was doing something that they did not like.

And, she said, in these circumstances there was very little support for councillors.

At the meeting, as chair of the council’s standards committee, she recommended a group be set up to examine the incidence of councillors being harassed and bullied – ‘by parties external to the council’ – and make any recommendations.

“If you are a councillor and you are bullied or harassed by a member of the community in fact you have no support,” she said.

“The only support you will have is if you go to the police and get them to pursue the individual who is harassing you.

“And many people feel that – people in positions of power – it’s their duty to harass them and that in some way they can act in a different way.”

Cllr Maynard acknowledged that both the incidents that she was aware of in St Albans in recent years had involved women.

And she said: “Before anything serious happens in this council I think it’s something we should be cognisant of – and start to do things that address it.”

However Labour councillor Dreda Gordon said that if these incidents were taking place, people should report then to the police – as the authority that should be dealing with these bullies and this sort of behaviour.

She said: “This has to be dealt with by the police so we send out a very clear message to bullies: ‘this will not be tolerated, you are not above the law and you will be treated by the law of the land’.”

Liberal Democrat council leader Cllr Chris White said extreme cases should be referred to the police.

But he highlighted the ‘run-up’ to that, that may include a ‘slightly obsessive email stream’, that may or may not be dangerous.

He said: “It is not just a police matter, even if it does end up that way. And support is what is being talked about here rather than criminal remedies.”

He said it was “shocking” that there was this divide in the way men and woman councillors were treated and that it was important to ‘diagnose’ the extent of the problem, as well as looking at whether enough was being done.

At the meeting councillors agreed to set up a group to look at this. They also agreed to amend the council’s code of conduct to include the ACAS definition of bullying.

Cllr Maynard said it was right that councillors conducted robust debate and were direct in their comments. But she said that should not be personal or offensive to individuals.

And the code of conduct has a number of new clauses that include councillors showing respect for others and not using bullying behaviour or harassment.