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Hanging effigies and sign demanding death of Tories at start of conference

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PICTURE: MERCURY

EFFIGIES dangling from nooses and a ‘vile’ banner calling for Conservatives to be killed greeted delegates arriving for the party’s conference yesterday.

Police are investigating after the banner was strung across the River Irwell in Manchester, drawing outrage from across the political spectrum.

‘Never have I felt more apprehensive than seeing this in my morning run,’ tweeted Kent Conservative councillor Kerry Boyd. ‘Does this classify as death/terrorist threat? Utterly vile.’

It came as Boris Johnson apologised for a ‘misunderstanding’ after he was accused of dismissing death threats against MPs as ‘humbug’.

An image of the banner was tweeted by Manchester’s branch of campaign group Momentum — which backs Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — with the accompanying caption: ‘Good morning @Conservatives. Welcome to Manchester.’

The branch later deleted the tweet, which Momentum head office described as ‘inappropriate’. ‘This is awful,’ tweeted Labour MP Yvette Cooper. ‘We cannot let politics descend into threats or incitement. Hope it is being swiftly removed.’

The banner — which Momentum denied putting up — said that 130,000 people had been ‘killed under Tory rule’, adding: ‘Time to level the playing field.’

It appeared to refer to analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank, which estimated 130,000 early deaths were caused by cuts in public health programmes under austerity.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham called the banner and effigies ‘completely unacceptable’, before they were removed by Salford council. Police said they were investigating whether a crime had been committed. Mounted police in riot gear sealed off more than a dozen streets surrounding Manchester Central Convention Complex as the four-day conference began.

An inflatable Boris blimp was launched as MPs, including Labour’s Angela Rayner, joined thousands of Tory opponents at a peaceful city centre protest march, braving a Met Office weather warning.

Mr Johnson, who has been accused of fuelling tensions with his language over Brexit, was questioned about his ‘humbug’ comment on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show. He said the remark in the Commons last week referred to Labour MP Paula Sherriff’s criticism of him for calling the law passed to stop a no-deal a ‘surrender’.

Ms Sheriff mentioned threats against MPs and the murder of her colleague Jo Cox as she warned the PM that trolls who send the messages often quote him. Mr Johnson called such threats ‘deplorable’ but would not apologise for saying surrender. He said he had been a ‘model of restraint’ and ‘everybody should calm down’.