Politics

Charles Kennedy suffered ‘abuse of the worst kind’ friends of former Lib Dem leader claim in documentary

Charles Kennedy was the victim of sustained social media abuse “of the worst kind” in the months before he lost his seat at the 2015 general election, friends of the late Scottish politician claimed.

The former leader of the Liberal Democrats was one of the UK’s best known political personalities but was among the sitting MPs to be swept aside by the SNP at a poll which saw the Nationalists claim 56 out of 59 constituencies in Scotland.

Kennedy – who died aged just 55 due to complications from alcoholism – is the subject of a new documentary from BBC Alba to be broadcast tonight.

The programme makers spoke to several friends and former colleagues of the well-respected Highlander, who led the Lib Dems from 1999-2006.

The documentary focuses on 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.

He 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, Kennedy went on to lead the Liberal Democrats, raising strong opposition to the Lib Dem-Tory coalition, as well as the Iraq war.

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

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 Kennedy had anonymous, very aggressive, notes left on his car and put through his letterbox.

He said the level of anger “really worried” 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.”

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

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