The mayor of a Cornish town who was targeted with racist abuse after a dispute over the flying of union flags to celebrate Brexit has spoken of her fear and anger.
Police have installed a panic alarm at the home of Nicole Broadhurst after she received thousands of messages, many abusive or racist, criticising her for saying the flags had to be taken down from Penzance seafront.
Broadhurst, who is black, also revealed that she and her husband were badly shaken after a group arrived at her remote home in a van at night, shone headlights into their sitting room and shouted abuse.
She has been advised by police to suspend her mayoral Facebook page and staff at Penzance town council are passing offensive messages straight to the police rather than showing them to her.
Broadhurst, 50, said: “It’s quite frightening to think they can do this to me and make me feel scared. It’s a vocal minority who want people to change how they run their homes and towns.
“When they came up to the house shouting and flashing their lights that was a bit of a shake-up for me and my husband. Now when a car pulls up, we’re both like, ‘what’s that?’ We’re living differently to the day before it happened.”
Flags are not normally flown on Penzance promenade in the winter because they can be damaged by high winds. But over new year 18 union flags appeared on poles owned by Cornwall council to mark the end of the Brexit transition.
Broadhurst made it clear they had not been authorised and they were taken down. A petition was launched against the move and the issue was picked up by local and national media, leading to “thousands” of abusive messages.
The mayor said: “The messages were unpleasant, personal, misogynistic and horrible. They included things like: ‘Don’t you dare show your face in this town, you’re an incomer, go back to where you came from.’
“There were lots of comments such as: ‘Look at her, she should go back to where she came from.’” Broadhurst said she was born in south London, moved to Cornwall in 2005 and had been a town councillor for almost four years.
She said: “I think I became a conduit for the anger that is out there, which is puzzling. The people who are angry won, they won Brexit. They got what they wanted, why are they still cross?
“I’ve been told by a few supporters keep your head down but I won’t. People keep their head down because they have been slapped down by a vocal minority. I will be asking the council not to appease these people. If we have a policy there is no way we should change it just because a small vocal minority wants to change something.”
She added: “It’s surreal that I have a personal panic alarm installed. The police are phoning to make sure I’m OK.” She said she had been told the police were investigating possible crimes under the Malicious Communications Act 1988.
It is not known who put the flags up. One man, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Cornwall Live website he had done it to help the UK celebrate independence from the EU.
He said: “They were not put up to create further divide in our community, they were put up to try to unite us as a nation. I am a proud Cornishman and I am proud to be British.”
A spokesperson for Devon and Cornwall police said: “Police in Penzance are investigating a report that racist comments had been posted online about a member of the community.”