Former Education Minister Kirsty Williams speaks of death threats in office and life after the Senedd

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She represented her community for 22 years, but in the last few years of her time in office, Kirsty Williams faced abuse and death threats that led to police watching her home and a security officer accompanying her on ministerial visits.

Ms Williams stood down from the Senedd in May's election, having been the Liberal Democrat MS for Brecon and Radnorshire since 1999 and served as Education Minister under two First Ministers.

During that time, Ms Williams received threats of physical harm, online abuse and death threats. Speaking about the abuse for the first time since stepping down, Ms Williams told ITV Wales' Sharp End that she wasn't the only government minister to have received threats.

"Just before lockdown, I came out of a school visit only to receive a telephone call from police in Carmarthen saying they had to come see me immediately as threats had been made against me," Ms Williams said.

"Unfortunately, I think that is now the reality for too many of my colleagues in public life, whether you're a government minister or other prominent politicians in Wales who have been subject to similar threats and abuse.

"It's a bit disconcerting to have police at the end of your road keeping an eye on your house while their colleagues try to find the person making threats against you."

Kirsty Williams was appointed Education Minister in 2016 by then First Minister Carwyn Jones Credit: Welsh Government

During the pandemic, Ms Williams was at the heart of decision-making in the Welsh Government, announcing the closure of schools in March last year and dealing with the fallout of the 2020 GCSE and A-Level results furore. She admitted that the experience of the past year, coupled with the increased abuse, contributed to her decision to stand down.

"I think Covid has made us all re-evaluate our lives - what's important, what we really value - and living your life in that way is something that you make a conscious decision that you are willing to put up with because you choose to be in public life", she said.

She added that she felt she was "failing to succeed" in protecting her family from some of the abuse that would be targeted at her.

"I think for me it became increasingly more and more difficult to protect my family, not from the threats of violence that we're talking about but the general level of abuse.

"When my children were small they weren't on social media, they didn't have access to those things, but now it's pretty difficult to keep them away from that. So trying to protect my family - or failing to succeed in protecting my family from some of the fallout from having a mother in political life was definitely a factor in me standing down."

Kirsty Williams was the first woman to lead a political party in Wales when she became Welsh Liberal Democrats leader in 2008 Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Archive/PA Images

Ms Williams was the last Welsh Liberal Democrat standing after the 2016 election.

She had previous served as the party's leader, having been the first woman elected to lead a political party in Wales in 2008. Her constituency seat was won by the Welsh Conservatives, but the Welsh Lib Dems managed win one regional seat held by the party's current leader Jane Dodds. Ms Williams admitted that there are issues her party needs to address.

"I think we need to be realistic. I think we need to recognise that we have a smaller number of activists, we have less financial resources than other parties who were competing in this election. The reality is no matter how good you are as the leader of the Welsh Liberal democrats, holding the government to account and getting the First Minister flicking through his folder at FMQs, landing the punches; when you're polling at 9% in the national polls... it's going to be really really difficult in a set of Welsh elections, so there's clearly things we need to address within the party within Wales."

Sharp End presenter Rob Osborne speaking to Kirsty Williams near her home Credit: ITV Wales

It has been almost two months now since the election, and Ms Williams said that while the passion for politics is still with her, it she knows it was the right decision to stand down when she did.

"It's certainly a change, and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a period of adjustment. But I was very clear that once you'd left you'd have to leave it behind completely. I'm a lot less stressed. I've caught up on my sleep, a lot less tired than I was. It's strange because you go from 100mph to stopping, but it was the right decision for me.

"I had 22 amazing amazing years, that's a long time for anybody. It's time to say I did that, I'm proud of what I did, but it's time now to think about doing something else."

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