Question row pair resign

A PAIR of councillors - who claim to be victims of a “witch-hunt” - have resigned from the Hartlepool Labour Group after a row over public questions at council meetings.

Jonathan Brash and Pamela Hargreaves have left with immediate effect and say they will now sit as “independent Labour councillors” on Hartlepool Borough Council.

The pair say they are independent of the Labour Group but are still national Labour Party members and are “free” to make their own decisions.

But Labour group leader, Christopher Akers-Belcher, said there is no such term as “independent Labour” and said they should seek re-election through a by-election.

It comes after the pair voted against proposals supported by the Labour Group to scrap supplementary questions at full council meetings, which led to them being suspended for seven days.

Coun Brash, who represents the Burn Valley ward, and Coun Hargreaves, the Victoria ward, claimed more “draconian” measures had been attempted including “expelling” Coun Brash and suspending Coun Hargreaves for “two cycles of council” which led to Labour chiefs offering to take a fresh look at the allegations.

A joint statement said: “It was made absolutely clear to us that the leadership of the group were intent on simply re-running the process to ensure that we were ‘fired properly the second time’ and frankly we were not prepared to put up with the on-going abuse.”

They claim group leaders were “intent on pursuing a witch-hunt” and have “decided to act positively and leave”.

Their statement added: “We believe that our stance on public questions and councillor’s allowances is actually in line with our party’s core principles and we have had many Labour Party members from Hartlepool and beyond contact us to offer their support.

“We will be Independent Labour councillors from now on, as we feel someone in Hartlepool has to be.”

Coun Akers-Belcher said: “They are no longer in the Labour Group and given they have been so vocal on political principles they have no mandate to be a councillor and as such should abide by their conscience and seek re-election through a duly called by-election.

“They were elected as Labour candidates and once they lose that brand they speak for no-one but themselves.”