COUNCIL leaders have condemned residents who levelled “vitriolic abuse” towards councillors and officers over proposals to build a relief road near a beauty spot and have questioned whether the perpetrators learnt anything from the case of murdered MP Jo Cox.

A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive heard residents unleashed tirades littered with expletives and accused councillors of corruption in attacks on social media and during public meetings as the authority sought views on how to tackle congestion in the town.

The abuse and claims became so severe that the council’s highways boss, Councillor Don Mackenzie, launched legal action and as a result had received a public apology from some residents.

He told the executive some residents became aggressive following a move by campaigners to turn the public engagement exercise into a referendum on whether or not Harrogate should have a relief road.

He said: “Inevitably that became the theme of the whole event and that theme also encouraged some aggressive behaviour on part of the some members of Harrogate and Knaresborough and as a resident myself I regret that.

“I apologise to officers if at any time they felt like they were being bullied or the subject of aggression. It is easier for me as an elected member to deal with aggressive members of the public and at times I have had to do so.

“Officers of North Yorkshire County Council are so professional that they took all of this on the chin and responded to repetitive questions.”

The authority’s deputy leader, Councillor Gareth Dadd, said the “vitriolic abuse” that some members had suffered was completely unacceptable, but was a symptom of the social media age. He said: “People are able to respond immediately, often without thinking, in a way that perhaps they wouldn’t if they were face to face with somebody. I think it’s utterly disgraceful, which is one of the reasons why I don’t personally engage politically on social media platforms because I’m not prepared to put my family through that level of abuse.We want to attract people into public service and when they see this level of abuse it certainly won’t encourage that and civic society is worse as a result.

“The people of Harrogate and elsewhere ought to reflect on what happened with Jo Cox. We certainly need a kinder politics, a more respectful politics.I can disagree passionately with some of our opponents, but by God I should have the right to express them provided they are not disrespectful or insulting and secondly those views should be given consideration in a respectful way. It is policy, not personality.”