Coalition group splits leaving lone councillor

The Standish Independent party, George, Debbie and Gareth Fairhurst
The Standish Independent party, George, Debbie and Gareth Fairhurst

THE WIGAN borough councillor embroiled in a sex-chat line scandal has parted ways with his political group.

Tyldesley representative Robert Bleakley, who faces a motion calling for his resignation at this week’s full council, has left the Wigan Independents, led by Coun Gareth Fairhurst.

The split means Coun Fairhurst will have his group leader allowance stopped having dropped below the four member threshold.

Under-fire Coun Bleakley was earlier this month found to have racked up a £2,400 bill on his local authority mobile calling premium rate lines and sending illicit, sexist messages.

Coun Fairhurst explained his decision in a letter to the Evening Post in response to calls from ex-Mayor Michael Winstanley for him to take action.

He said: “(Mr Winstanley) said I was all quiet but the fact was whilst he was rushing to try and score a cheap political point, I was asking the council and the councillor involved for all the information and carrying out investigations.

“Needless to say Labour did nothing like what I did.

“As a consequence I have broken the two groups apart and our party will sit on the council as our own group and not in coalition.”

Coun Fairhurst’s Standish Independents return to three members with his wife and father completing the trio.

It is not clear whether Coun Bleakley will now sit on the council as a lone independent.

The Evening Post contacted the councillor but did not receive a response at the time of going to press.

Coun Bleakley left the Lib Dems following previous breaches of the members’ code of conduct earlier this year.

A spokesman for Wigan Council said: “As a consequence of the change the Standish Independent Group will lose two committee seats in total, namely its seats on the Licensing and Regulation Committee. Those two seats will now be designated as available to the non-group members.”

The annual group leader allowance was £3,490.

Following a cross-party standards committee hearing, Coun Bleakley has been ordered not to speak to female officers after sexist and discriminatory content was sent from his phone.

He has maintained he has been the subject of council smear campaign.