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Wigan councillor Robert Bleakley refuses to quit

Robert Bleakley Image copyright Wigan Council
Image caption Robert Bleakley denies allegations of sexism

A Wigan councillor has refused to stand down after being accused of sexism towards female council staff - but apologised to women he has offended.

Robert Bleakley denies claims he has a "problem with women", which were made by Wigan Council's chief executive after a probe into his conduct.

Donna Hall made the statement after he used his council mobile phone to call sex chat lines and send explicit and derogatory text messages.

His employer has also launched a probe.

Liverpool City Council is also looking at whether there has been any policy breaches during Mr Bleakley's employment as a council officer.

'Said in jest'

Last week, Wigan Council's Standards Committee was shown text messages including one in March 2013 in which he swore and said women were "idiots".

It then said: "No wonder women are just cooking and washing material."

Mr Bleakley, who has been a councillor for more than 10 years, said: "The Wigan Council bogus allegations of sexism are denied and refuted.

"I am not a sexist, these remarks or text messages were made after the death of my mother and I have to say the early stages of a breakdown.

Image caption Wigan Council chief executive Donna Hall says Mr Bleakley has a "problem with women" based on text messages she has been shown

"They were totally out of character. They were said in jest to a very good friend of mine."

The Standards Committee hearing found Mr Bleakley breached members' code of conduct for using his phone for personal use but the panel did not suspend him as a councillor.

His phone was removed with other IT equipment and his internet access was stopped.

The Wigan Independents' representative said: "It has been regrettable. I've always said I'm going to serve a full term until 2016."

The Tyldesley ward councillor paid the money straight back after a phone bill of nearly £2,500 highlighted he had been calling chat lines, he said.

He said the messages "weren't meant to be upsetting" and "sincerely apologised".

Earlier this year, Mr Bleakley was found to have deliberately altered an email to try to jeopardise a senior employee's job and viewed pornographic material on his council-issued laptop.

"Tyldesley electors re-elected me on a number of occasions knowing that I do overstep the mark," he said.

He will also be given equal opportunities training.

Mr Bleakley welcomed the investigation by Liverpool City Council and said he would "fully co-operate if requested".

Liverpool City Council confirmed Mr Bleakley is a paid employee of the authority but does not deal with the public.

A Liverpool City Council spokesman said: "We have launched our own investigation to establish whether there has been any breach of any relevant policies, procedures or codes".

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