Sanctions lifted for Hartlepool councillor Tony Richardson, who shared ‘offensive and racist’ Facebook posts
Cllr Tony Richardson, an Independent councillor, had called for himself to be allowed to sit on Hartlepool Borough Council committees again after previously being forbidden following a standards hearing in 2020.
It was held after Cllr Richardson was reported to have shared a post likening an immigrant trying to claim benefits to a dog, while three other offensive posts shared by the councillor were also considered in the investigation.
At a meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council on February 25, councillors voted to remove the sanctions, with 13 backing the move, eight voting for the sanctions to remain in place, and six abstaining.
This was despite the audit and governance committee recommending earlier in February that the sanctions remained in place until the end of Cllr Richardson’s current term of office, as originally agreed.
Speaking at full council, Cllr Lee Cartwright called for the sanctions to be removed, stating Cllr Richardson is a ‘good councillor’ who has complied fully with everything required of him since the investigation.
He also noted how when the investigation was originally carried out in January 2020, council elections were scheduled in May, and councillors could not have foreseen they would be delayed for a year due to Covid-19.
Cllr Cartwright, Veterans’ and People’s Party representative, said: “He apologised publicly and openly within the same week.
“He’s attended his equality and diversity training, he’s attended his information technology upskilling sessions.
“He’s attended pretty much every single meeting that has been made available in the capacity which he could, in the public galleries, trying to represent his people with one hand tied behind his back effectively, and he’s done this really well.”
He added: “I believe he’s a good councillor, he’s on the ground, the people of his estate and ward know him very well, he still lives in the house on his ward that he was born into, he’s all for the people.
“I believe it’s fair and reasonable [to remove the sanctions], he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to in regards to his breach of code of conduct.”
However Cllr Brenda Harrison had called for the sanctions to remain in place until the end of Cllr Richardson’s term of office, as initially agreed following the investigation.
“My view is, and it will remain so, is that although I appreciate Cllr Richardson has made every effort to do what we asked him to do, as far as training etc is concerned, the actual statement was that the sanctions would remain until the end of his term of office,” said the Labour councillor.
“I appreciate it’s been extended by a year but that’s been the same for other people as well in other guises, so it’s just one of those things that yes it was very unforeseeable, but it’s still there, so he’s still in that term of office.”
Councillors voted in favour of removing the sanctions however, with several other representatives speaking out at the meeting in favour of this, including Cllr James Brewer.
The Independent Union representative said: “If this was as simple as an obviously racist councillor trying to get back on committees, I’d vote against it in a heartbeat. I do not and will never associate myself with racists.
“However, I do find those posts deplorable and vastly out of character for Tony.”
He added: “I realise he has apologised for any conflict or hardship it may have caused any member of the public, again something I don’t consider a racist would do.
“I would just hope that this council considers this vote an opportunity for a colleague to prove themselves, to not only this council, but the rest of the town, and to not mar them forever over this instance.”
The removal of the sanctions means Cllr Richardson is able to sit on council committees again, as he was previously removed from any positions he held and banned him from sitting on any committee.
The review came after Cllr Richardson, speaking at the previous full council meeting in January, said he wanted to challenge for seats on several committees as part of a political proportionality review.
When the initial standards hearing was held into Cllr Richardson’s posts last year, he apologised for any offence caused and stressed he is not a racist, but was ‘significantly careless and naive’, attributing the posts to his difficulties using social media.