A Wigan Council election hopeful has been unmasked as a convicted child sex offender and former mayor of St Helens who tried to get back into politics under an alias.
John Beirne is the disgraced ex-first citizen of St Helens, who in 2017 was given a suspended jail sentence for abusing youngsters when he himself was a teenager.
He put himself forward as an independent candidate for Wigan’s Douglas ward in Thursday’s local elections using the name John Blondel, but withdrew before polling day.
Yet his name appeared on the ballot paper and, while he didn’t win, the 58-year-old attracted 384 votes from people clearly unaware that he was no longer in the running.
This has caused one of the people who unwittingly nominated him to say the result of Thursday’s ward poll – even though it was convincingly won by Labour’s Sheila Ramsdale – should be declared null and void and be re-run.
Electorial Commission rules state that someone cannot stand in a council election if they have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three months or more (including a suspended sentence), without the option of a fine, during the five years before polling day.
It is also an offence for a candidate not to declare a criminal record.
Such matters cannot be investigated by the local council and the Wigan Post has been told that Beirne has been quizzed by police over these matters after voluntarily submitting himself for interview.
Questions are also being asked as to why Wigan Council didn’t do something to notify the public - including striking “Blondel’s” name from the ballot paper - if it knew in advance that he was no longer standing.
But the local authority says that he withdrew too late for Electoral Commission rules to allow them to act and, as he missed the deadline, he was still in fact a candidate.
The Wigan Post was first made aware that Beirne and Blondel were one and the same person in mid-April and that the would-be independent councillor was in fact St Helens’s disgraced former mayor.
Blondel’s candidate address was given as School Way, Pemberton, but a check of the electoral register only showed John Beirne living at that house.
Numerous attempts were made to contact both Johns, Beirne informing our reporter Andrew Nowell by email that he was not standing himself but was agent for his partner Blondel.
Our reporter rang phone numbers provided for the two men but got no reply, nor could he raise a response when knocking at the door on several occasions, twice putting notes through the letterbox. Beirne, a former landlord of Pemberton’s White Lion pub, could not be raised either by ringing the St Helens hair salon where he works.
Beirne emailed our reporter early last week to say that he and his partner had suffered a bereavement, asking them to be allowed to grieve in peace, and saying that they would be away for several days but that he would get back in touch on Friday. But no further calls or emails came then or any days afterwards.
On election day the Wigan Post was contacted by Beirne’s next door neighbour Frank Brzewski who said he had helped and nominated John Blondel for his election campaign, but last week Blondel left him a note saying that he had been disqualified from the election.
The 69-year-old contacted us to complain that Blondel’s name was still on the ballot paper. But when shown a picture of John Beirne he was shocked to identify him as the man he had believed to be John Blondel.
Mr Rzewski said: “He has been living next door for about a year and we were nodding acquaintances until he started putting leaflets though the letterbox saying he was standing as an independent. I offered to help him distribute leaflets because after the shambles of Brexit I am fed up with all the main parties.
“We then went on holiday and came back on Monday this week to find Mr Blondel had put a note through the door saying that he had been disqualified from the election, apologising and thanking me for the work I’d done.
“But then on Thursday I went to Mount Zion to cast my vote and his name was on the ballot paper. I spoke to the two officers that were running the polling station about this irregularity. After a discussion on the phone the gentleman handed me over to an official at Wigan council and it became evident that he knew of the situation in regard to the disqualified candidate, but insisted that the election was legal!
“I suggested that the ballot papers should have had the name struck out so that an honest and fair election could take place, but to no avail.
“Regardless of how the vote went, this result must be declared null and void. People were trying to elect someone who wasn’t standing.
“Who knows how those people - and others for that matter - would have voted if Blondel wasn’t on the ballot paper?
“I believe in honesty and integrity and was pinning hopes on an independent; but, after how the authorities reacted and I have found out that John Blondel isn’t who he said he was, I feel let down all round.”
Under election law, Blondel/Beirne had until April 3 to withdraw from Wigan’s local elections but an authority spokeswoman said that he only notified the town hall after that date, which means the name has to stay on the ballot paper.
If candidates haven’t properly withdrawn, then there is nothing to stop them still taking power if they later change their mind about pulling out and go on to win more votes than anyone else.
And Alison McKenzie-Folan, Returning Officer at Wigan Council, said: “The nomination paper submitted by the candidate was valid, as it met the criteria required by law.
“The deadline for candidates to withdraw from standing at the election passed on April 3, 4pm.
“Nomination papers received must be taken at face value; Returning Officers’ cannot investigate whether a candidate is disqualified under section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972.
“Following an official complaint this is now a police matter and as such we are unable to comment any further.”
It was in July 2017 that a Liverpool Crown Court judge sentenced Beirne to a 16-month suspended prison sentence and put him on the Sex Offenders’
Register for 10 years after the defendant admitted to sex offences with four boys aged between eight and 12 which took place between May 1975 and February 1980, when Beirne was in his late teens.
He went on to be a St Helens councillor for many years, and stood for election as both a Lib-Dem and Ukip candidate at various times.
His defence counsel said that since the offences Beirne had “lived a constructive, worthwhile life. He has been a politician and successful councillor, all to the benefit of the community.”
But the sentencing judge said: “I want to make one thing absolutely clear – that these were predatory, pre-planned and persistent assaults,” and voiced concern at his lack of remorse.
We attempted to speak to Mr Beirne after the election but were unable to make contact with him again.