SOCIAL media makes it easy to communicate people around the world. But Bolton South MP Yasmin Qureshi called in the police after receiving abusive and threatening messages on Facebook. MATTHEW CALDERBANK reports

A FORMER drug dealer has been convicted of harassing a Bolton MP after posting threatening messages to the politician’s Facebook page.

Tyrone Gallagher, 48, of Gregson Field, Great Lever, was found guilty of harassment at Preston Magistrates Court yesterday, after targeting Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi with threatening messages earlier this year.

The Facebook post, which has since been deleted, accused Ms Qureshi of being involved in a ‘cover-up’, relating to recent events in Gallagher’s personal life.

READ MORE: Threats made Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi fear for her safety

He was also accused of leaving explicit voicemail messages at the MP's constituency office in St Georges Road.

In the recorded messages, which were played in court, Gallagher could be heard screaming expletives and accusing Ms Qureshi of being "an abuser".

Gallagher said he believed Ms Qureshi was responsible for an 'assault' on his granddaughter, and that she particpated in a 'cover-up' to prevent him seeking justice.

Gallagher, who previously served seven years in prison for conspiracy to supply heroin, denied posting the abusive Facebook post and leaving the voicemail messages.

READ MORE: Social media abuse of MPs is increasing, shows research

Gallagher, representing himself, claimed the recorded voicemail messages were left by someone who had entered his home in Great Lever.

He attempted to explain his arrest as an elaborate conspiracy between Ms Qureshi, Greater Manchester Police, the Crown Prosecutuion Service (CPS) and the NHS, to imprison him.

He said someone who had access to his phone, possibly one of his estranged brothers, might have left the aggressive messages.

Concluding his defence, he said: “It’s a stitch-up. I’ve been stitched up your honour. I’m innocent.”

Gallagher, who has served numerous prison sentences for burglary, drug dealing, affray and actual bodily harm over the past 25 years, was handed a six-week sentence for harassment, suspended for 12 months.

Prior to delivering her verdict, Senior District Judge Arbuthnot informed the court that Gallagher’s “deliberate and purposeful attack” on Ms Qureshi was particularly troubling since the murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016.

District Judge Arbuthnot said: “Hearing the voicemails and hearing the tone of voice, the person who left these messages had apparently ‘lost it’ and was without doubt conducting himself in an aggressive manner.

“The person would have been well aware that this behaviour amounted to harassment.”

When asked by the judge whether he considered the language used in the messages offensive, Gallagher replied, “I’ve been called worse.”

The judge said: “I have no doubt that the voicemails and Facebook posts were left by a person using Gallagher’s phone and expressed the same grudges as Gallagher.

“Who else would be in the defendant’s home at 5.36am and leave these messages?

“I have no doubt that Tyrone Gallagher is responsible for the offence of leaving these abusive and aggressive messages and, I therefore, find him guilty.”

Gallagher was given a six-week sentence, suspended for six months. In addition, he was handed an indefinite restraining order, preventing him from communicating with Ms Qureshi and her staff.

Gallagher will also be subject to an eight-week curfew, between 10pm and 5am.

After delivering her verdict, Judge Arbuthnot explained to the defendant that he had "interfered in the democratic process" by intimidating an MP.

The judge said: "You are interfering with the democratic process. Ms Qureshi is trying to help people the best she can and you are preventing her from doing her job.

"You intimidated not only an MP, but the office staff as well. You left a member of Ms Qureshi's staff shaking with fear.

"Especially since the murder of Jo Cox, MPS are vulnerable people in the public sphere.

"This abuse can stop people from becoming MPs because they do not want to go through what she has been through."

Upon receiving his sentence, an unrepentant Gallagher smiled at the court.

He said: “Thanks love, happy days.”

Gallagher was also accused of sending abusive letters to Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.