A businessman has admitted sending a string of abusive emails to anti-Brexit MPs despite voting to remain, a court heard.
Paul Ritchie, 34, could face up to two years in jail after pleading guilty to 28 counts of sending an electronic communication with intent to cause distress or anxiety at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday.
The charges relate to emails sent over a six-month period between March and August in 2019, with victims including former Commons Speaker John Bercow, ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and former home secretary Amber Rudd.
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.
Paul Ritchie, 34, admitted 28 counts of sending threatening emails to MPs at Southwark Crown Court, including calling former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured) a ‘terrorist’
Other recipients included former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC, ex-Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, her successor Sir Ed Davey, one-time London mayoral candidate and Cabinet minister Rory Stewart and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford.
The court heard 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.
Ritchie, from Lanarkshire, Scotland, also told former Home Secretary Amber Rudd (pictured) she ‘faced being assassinated’
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.’
Prosecutor Ruby Selva 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***k’, while having dinner with his family following an appearance to discuss Brexit on the Andrew Marr Show.
A message Ritchie sent to Mr Corbyn in March 2019 read: ‘You should be hung for treason you f****** terrorist.’
The same month, he sent an email to the 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.
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 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.’
And he told Mr Stewart in June 2019: ‘If you block Brexit … you like likely (sic) be assassinated.’
Ritchie also told Ms Swinson she deserved to be ‘hung’, and said to Ms Rudd that she was ‘definitely going to be assassinated’.
In messages to Mr Blackford, Ritchie said: ‘I hope you die.’ He also said: ‘I dare you to come to the pub in Westminster and say some of the shit you do in the house.’
Ritchie appeared in the dock wearing beige trousers and a dark green sweater over an open-collared white shirt and looked at the ground as the case was opened.
Appearing at Southwark Crown Court (pictured), Ritchie was bailed until appearance in June
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 abusing drugs and alcohol at the time of the offences, but Judge Adam Hiddleston said: ‘The motivation appears to be anger and frustration.’
The judge adjourned sentencing until June 18 for further information from a recent mental health examination in Scotland, where Ritchie now lives.
Ritchie, of Dolphinton in Lanarkshire, was granted bail on condition he does not contact any of the victims or any serving MP, except his local MP, Conservative former Cabinet minister David Mundell.