Penally: Homophobic attacks for welcoming asylum seekers

Laveta Brigham

Image copyright Joshua Beynon Image caption Mr Beynon says no one in public life should have to put up with personal attacks A councillor who welcomed asylum seekers has been called a paedophile by online abusers and told his partner will be raped. Protests have been held outside a military […]

Joshua BeynonImage copyright
Joshua Beynon

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Mr Beynon says no one in public life should have to put up with personal attacks

A councillor who welcomed asylum seekers has been called a paedophile by online abusers and told his partner will be raped.

Protests have been held outside a military training camp in Penally, Pembrokeshire where asylum seekers are being housed.

Joshua Beynon, 23, who is gay, has reported 30-40 people to the police after homophobic comments and abuse online in response to his support.

“It’s quite scary at times,” he said.

Pembrokeshire council has condemned online abuse directed at councillors, individuals and charities who have supported asylum seekers at the controversial camp.

Mr Beynon, who was elected in 2017 and is one of the youngest councillors in Wales, said most of the abuse had come after he criticised racism online.

“People think they can say things online, that they would never ever dream of saying to your face,” said Mr Beynon.

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Media captionThe asylum seekers said they loved the UK and the people who saved their lives, but the accommodation was “not suitable”

The Pembroke Dock councillor said he had received homophobic comments in the past on social media, but it intensified when he campaigned to get County Hall in Haverfordwest lit up in support of the Black Lives Matters movement.

But Mr Beynon, a Labour councillor, said the abuse had been far worse since he posted online supporting the refugees and challenged “horrendous racism”.

Protests have been held over the Home Office’s decision to house up to 250 people at the army training centre, which has been described as a target for “hard-right extremist” protestors.

Warning: This story contains offensive language

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Protests and counter-protests have been held over the camp near Tenby

After posting a picture on Facebook of him with other community members hanging welcome messages on the gates of the camp, Mr Beynon received homophobic abuse.

“They’ve called me a nonce, a faggot, there’s been loads and loads of stuff like that,” he said, adding he had also been called a “gremlin”, “snowflake”, “muppet” and “Judas”.

“There are some which are out of this world, someone said I was funded by the big media, some saying I was a paedophile, I don’t know where this stuff comes from,” he added.

In one post, a woman wrote: “How much is he paying them people too do that, plus he’s got more faces than the town clock and he’s a nonce…should not be a cllr he’s a Paedophile and most people now that makes me sick.”

In another comment, one person said: “Wait till they rape his children and his wife”, to which someone responded “or his husband”.

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First Minister Mark Drakeford said the camp had become a target for extremists

“There’s been stuff that’s been quite intimidating,” said Mr Beynon, who said some of the messages had been from people who lived hundreds of miles away.

“I’ve had to ask the council’s monitoring officer if I can have my address removed from my register of interests on the council website on a temporary basis. Just to make sure that nothing happens to me or anyone I live with.”

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Some locals have protested against the camp, saying while they welcome asylum seekers, the facility is not suitable to house people fleeing persecution.

“I understand people do have genuine concerns who live in the local area, but I strongly object to these really racist remarks that they automatically assume that they are murderers, or rapists or thieves, there is no proof of that, it’s just stirring up hatred online,” Mr Beynon said.

“If you call it out, then you get personal attacks about you.”

Mr Beynon said he had reported 30 to 40 people for comments to the police and had sought advice from lawyers.

“These actions are criminal, and I think people need to realise that they can’t sit behind a keyboard, and say what they want, and get away with it,” he said, adding many people had defended him on social media.

“I’m more than happy to debate with people, and have people say they disagree with me, but you don’t have to say because “you’re gay”,” he added.

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Mr Beynon’s post welcoming refugees had over 1,000 comments, with some including homophobic comments

Mr Beynon said that he feared trolling, racism and homophobia, would put others off standing from election, and prevent diverse candidates from entering politics.

The most recent survey of county councillors in Wales, carried out after the 2017 elections but with a low response rate, suggested 98% were white, 72% over the age of 50, 67% were male, and 93% were heterosexual.

Under changes, aimed at increasing diversity in Welsh politics ahead of the 2022 council elections, the Welsh Government said it was looking at measures to “ensure councillors and their families are safe when undertaking their duties”.

‘Attacked for serving community’

Pembrokeshire council leader David Simpson added: “Pembrokeshire has a proud history of tolerance and respect.

“Racism and homophobia has no place in society and we cannot condone this unacceptable behaviour.”

The Welsh Local Government Association said it was supporting Mr Beynon, adding that councillors were “ordinary everyday people trying to make a difference in their communities”.

A spokesman said: “Whilst debate is welcomed, they should not have to tolerate any sort of abuse or vitriol for doing their duties.

“We want to attract diverse people from all backgrounds to stand in local elections.

“Nobody should feel discouraged from wanting to represent their communities by the intimidatory actions of a few. This behaviour will not be tolerated and action will be taken wherever necessary.”

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