FORMER Warrington North MP Helen Jones ‘feared for her safety’ during a two-year campaign of online abuse by an ex-councillor.

Paul Bretherton, who served as a Labour councillor in the town between 2007 and 2016, was earlier this month convicted of harassing Mrs Jones after becoming angered by his deselection.

Warrington Guardian:

Today, Monday, the 48-year-old was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work at Liverpool Magistrates Court.

A statement on behalf of the recently retired MP was read out during the hearing this afternoon, in which Mrs Jones described how the harassment caused a ‘serious impact on her wellbeing’ and even led to her shopping in other towns as she feared for her safety in Warrington.

The statement added: “I felt like I was being constantly watched, I felt vulnerable when I was out in Warrington because I didn’t know who the poster was.

“I’ve never felt vulnerable in the town before.

“They seemed to be someone who was rather disturbed, and I was concerned that they might go from posting online to other more direct actions – I wondered how far they would go in their attempts to tarnish my reputation.

Warrington Guardian:

Bretherton celebrating during the 2015 elections

“These are not the actions of a normal constituent or a political opponent, I feared for my safety.

“I always felt safe in Warrington prior to this, but as the poster continued I felt as though I was constantly looking over my shoulder and wondering if they were nearby.”

Bretherton, from Padgate, posted hundreds of ‘false and offensive’ comments on the Warrington Guardian and Warrington Worldwide websites between October 2016 and December 2018 under the pseudonyms Billywires and B1illywires.

The married dad-of-two was deselected in 2016 and, blaming Mrs Jones, criticised her performance as an MP – accusing her of running a ‘totalitarian regime’ and being someone who ‘wouldn’t tolerate anyone who disagreed with her’.

Warrington Guardian:

These anonymous postings, described as a ‘campaign of slurs and lies’, made her feel ‘very anxious’ in the wake of fellow member Jo Cox.

Bretherton, of Springfield Avenue, denied the charge – claiming his comments were fair, and that he was ‘free to criticise the MP under free speech’.

District judge John McGarva also ordered the defendant, who has no previous convictions, to pay Mrs Jones £500 in compensation – as well as £900 in court costs and a £90 victim surcharge.

He was also handed a restraining order, preventing him from contacting the 65-year-old ex-MP or posting comments about her or her family on the internet for the next five years.

Sentencing, judge McGarva said: “Threats of these kind are an attack on our democracy.

“I accept that none of the messages were explicitly threatening and none contained abusive language, and the messages were not sent directly to her.

“On the other hand, the messaging was relentless over a long period of time.

“Some were mischievous and some were downright malicious, setting out absolute falsehoods about her.

“You are a man of hitherto positive character, a man who has served the community well as a good councillor.

“But you have shattered all you did by your conduct.”