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Online abuse of Charles Kennedy was ‘cruel beyond words’

Emma O'Neill, PA Scotland
·3-min read

A new documentary will focus on the “cruel beyond words” social media abuse the late politician Charles Kennedy faced towards the end of his life.

The BBC ALBA programme Charles Kennedy: A Good Man Speaking, has spoken to friends and former colleagues of the Liberal Democrat MP, who was leader of the party from 1999-2006.

The programme will focus on Mr Kennedy’s story from his upbringing on a Highland croft, his dogged fight for the largest parliamentary seat in Britain, to his rise to leader of the Liberal Democrats and ultimately his resignation due to alcoholism and loss of seat in 2015.

Clark McGinn (left) with Charles Kennedy (right) and the Observer Mace in 1982
Clark McGinn (left) with Charles Kennedy (right) and the Observer Mace in 1982 (Susan Mack/PA)

Mr Kennedy was just a 23-year-old when he won the Ross, Cromarty and Skye seat – an area which had been devastated by unemployment after the closure of the Aluminium Smelter at Invergordon, which launched his 32-year career in politics.

Rising through the political ranks of his party, Mr Kennedy went on to lead the Liberal Democrats, raising strong opposition to the Lib Dem-Tory coalition, as well as the Iraq war.

Mr Kennedy died aged just 55, due to complications from his battle with alcoholism.

The documentary will look at the “naked abuse and denigration” Mr Kennedy was dealing with in the run up to the 2015 general election, where he lost his seat.

Charles Kennedy with his then wife Sarah and their son Donald in 2005
Charles Kennedy with his then wife Sarah and their son Donald in 2005 (BBC ALBA/PA)

Brian Wilson, a journalist and former Labour MP, said: “He had someone full-time deleting the abuse towards him on social media.

“Charlie was grieving the death of his parents, the loss of his best friend, and trying to hold a family together. Nobody could have been well equipped to deal with that. It was beyond belief the things that were being said and done.

“What Charles was subjected to had nothing to do with his politics, had no respect for what he’d done in politics or in public life, and had no respect for his personal circumstances.

“It was naked abuse and denigration of the worst kind. I think what was done to him was cruel beyond words.”

His close friend and former brother-in-law James Gurling reveals that Mr Kennedy had anonymous very aggressive notes left on his car and put through his letterbox.

Charles Kennedy campaigned to keep Mulbuie Primary in the Muir of Ord open
Charles Kennedy campaigned to keep Mulbuie Primary in the Muir of Ord open (BBC ALBA/PA)

He said the level of anger “really worried” Mr Kennedy, adding: “You begin to wonder what’s in those people’s minds that they think that is an appropriate way of doing things.

“All politicians get shouted down in meetings and get called all sorts but generally speaking that’s in a public view that the community can judge is fair or not. This was something quite different.”

Mr Kennedy lost his seat in 2015, a night he described as – “the night of the long sgian dubhs”.

He died a few weeks later and was buried on land in Lochaber dating back to the 18th century when Cameron of Lochiel gifted burial rites to the Kennedys of Cluny for their support during the Jacobite Rebellion.

Tearlach Ceannadach: Labhraiche Lochabair / Charles Kennedy: A Good Man Speaking is on BBC ALBA on Tuesday, February 23 at 9.00pm and will be available on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days afterwards.