A LONG-STANDING Tory councillor has quit the party after a bullying row and will contest her seat as an Independent at the next election.
Anne Dale, who has represented Stocksfield and Broomhaugh ward in Tynedale for 18 years, left the Northumberland Conservative group after alleging she had been victimised by a senior colleague in a council chamber exchange.
Planning Committee chairman Coun Ian Hutchinson had to stand down after being found guilty by a standards panel of bullying Coun Dale during a committee meeting in June.
Coun Dale has now resigned from the Conservative party, and last night said: “I have quit the group and am hoping to stand as an Independent in the local elections in May. My honesty and integrity was at stake and I am not prepared to tolerate that for the sake of party politics. After serving for 18 years, I hope to continue doing so.”
Northumberland Conservative group leader Peter Jackson said there had been too many policy differences for Coun Dale to continue as a party member.
Coun Jackson said: “There are a series of policy differences going back three or four months. One was about saddling the new Prudhoe school building with a mountain of debt. She also refused to support our policies on control of wind farms, the Whittonstall opencast and our objection to it, plus free car parking before Christmas.”
But Coun Dale hit back: “There are no significant policy differences at all.
“There was one legal motion on wind farms that a lot of us didn’t vote on, but Peter Jackson has been singling me out.
“And on the issue of free computers at Prudhoe, I was not voting against that – I insist there were no significant policy differences.”
The split in the party has run for more than a year since it was announced that Coun Dale had been de-selected from the list of county election candidates.
Then in June she complained about Coun Hutchinson’s behaviour towards her during a planning committee meeting in Hexham.
Coun Dale took her case to the county council’s standards board and after a lengthy hearing, Coun Hutchinson, of Haltwhistle, was found guilty of bullying and apologised then stepped down as committee chairman to be replaced by Coun Edward Heslop of Wark.
Afterwards, Coun Dale resigned the party whip, though she is currently serving out her time on the authority.
Coun Jackson added: “She has kept on repeating that the group investigation into the bullying incident was not satisfactory, but that is wrong.
“The group did find that there had been a breach of the written code of conduct and Coun Hutchinson had to make a written apology. He then stood down as planning committee chairman.
“Most of the members of the group thought the matter had been handled satisfactorily – and that there should have been an end to it a long time ago. It doesn’t surprise us that Coun Dale has left the Tory group, because she effectively has not been a member of it for months now.”
Coun Dale’s place as a Conservative candidate in the May local election has been taken by Dr Paul Vickers of Stocksfield.
Coun Jackson said: “We are very excited that Paul Vickers is an excellent candidate who will bring a fresh view.”