Action delayed against Hartlepool ex-Brexit Party councillor Tony Richardson over sharing of racist Facebook posts

Calls have been made for an independent inquiry to take place before taking further action against a councillor over sharing of offensive and racist Facebook posts.
Councillor Tony RichardsonCouncillor Tony Richardson
Councillor Tony Richardson

A standards hearing was held by the Hartlepool Borough Council Audit and Governance Committee in January following a complaint over posts shared by Fens and Rossmere Councillor Tony Richardson on his Facebook page.

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It also suggests removing him from his posts on council committees and not appointing him to any other bodies in future.

In December, Coun Tony Richardson shared a post likening an immigrant trying to claim benefits to a dog, while three other offensive posts were also considered in the investigation.

Coun Ged Hall, chair of the Audit and Governance Committee, noted Coun Tony Richardson apologised to the committee and explained his actions were not racially motivated but attributable to his naivety and difficulties using social media.

The report went before a Full Hartlepool Borough Council meeting on Thursday, and councillors voted to defer endorsing actions of the report to allow for an independent inquiry to take place first.

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They also noted they wanted to wait to see if police take any action over the posts.

Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “There has been no formal investigation by the police to say the law has actually been broken.

“I’m somewhat uncomfortable at this moment in time making a decision when we’re still awaiting the outcome of any pending police investigation.

“The report is based on probability and I think that’s a much weaker test than what police would consider beyond reasonable doubt.

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“In the media over the last week there’s people who have been hounded by the press for decisions that have yet to reach court and they’ve had dire consequences on the lives of them and their family.”

Coun Stephen Akers Belcher seconded this and called for an independent inquiry into the incident.

He said: “Hartlepool has a true history of supporting and welcoming people to Hartlepool and we can’t lose sight of that.

“If Councillor Tony Richardson is a racist he should be hounded out of office and the people will make that decision.

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“I think we should have an independent inquiry into this so it can be looked at independently and we can examine it.”

Refusal to resign

Calls had previously been made for Coun Tony Richardson, who now sits as an Independent, to resign following the incident, but he said previously he would not be doing so.

This included calls from the community group Hartlepool Against Racism, and members of the group handed out flyers outside the Civic Centre ahead of the meeting.

However Coun Lee Cartwright said Coun Tony Richardson was not a racist, adding he hadn’t received his social media training at the time of sharing the posts.

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He said: “Over the last year I’ve had the pleasure of working with Councillor Tony Richardson and I absolutely don’t see him as a racist at all.

“Yes he is IT illiterate, that’s why he gets all his paperwork delivered, yes he has hit the share button, however he should have pressed the delete button.”

‘Hartlepool looks after everyone’

Coun Paddy Brown, leader of the Labour Party on the council, said the shared posts were ‘innately racist’ and open the doors to racial hatred.

He said: “We’re a town that proudly looks after our own, regardless of race, religion or background, and these bigoted sentiments are in direct conflict to this.

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“We believe it is vital all councillors from across the floor ensure this kind of rhetoric never enters the mainstream so these racist and bigoted malcontents remain marginalised.”

Coun Brenda Harrison noted there is a difference between the law and the ‘ethical law’ councillors are responsible for upholding, and said they should have been able to go ahead with the report recommendations.

Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher, Socialist Labour Party representative, also claimed there was ‘hypocrisy’ within the Labour Group as he had witnessed racism within the party.

Coun Dave Hunter, deputy leader of the Labour Group on the council, said any papers suggesting racism should be brought to solicitors, and he had not experienced any racism in the group.

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The motion to defer the report being endorsed was passed by 13 votes to 11.

The standards hearing recommendations in full:

:: That Full Council notes the findings and recommendations arising from the hearing that took place on 22 January 2020.

:: That Full Council terminates the membership of Councillor Tony Richardson on the Licensing, Planning and Local Joint Consultative Committees, in accordance with the expressed wishes of the Coalition

:: That Full Council resolves that Councillor Tony Richardson shall not be appointed as a member of any committee for the remainder of his current term of office and shall discourage any member from designating him as a

substitute for them on any other committee

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:: That Full Council resolves that Councillor Tony Richardson consider resigning as an elected member of Hartlepool Borough Council.

:: That Full Council considers censure of Councillor Tony Richardson and issues the following formal statement:

“Hartlepool Borough Council is pleased to note that Councillor Tony Richardson accepts that he has breached the Council’s Code of Conduct and that he has apologised for doing so.

“The promotion of racist and offensive material in any forum falls well below the standards expected of those in public life and such actions cannot and will not be tolerated. The actions of Councillor Tony Richardson are not representative of this Authority or the communities that it represents and as such the Authority has worked to impose the the most appropriate and stringent sanctions that are available in law.”