Manchester

Ex-Bury Council leader Mike Connolly suspended by Labour

Mike Connolly Image copyright Bury Council
Image caption Mike Connolly says he has nothing to hide and will co-operate fully with the investigation

Ex-Bury Council leader Mike Connolly has been suspended by Labour amid claims officials did not follow child protection rules for political reasons.

The move follows reports which found council officers failed to act quickly enough after claims were made against a councillor before elections in 2015.

Simon Carter later admitted 16 charges of making indecent images of children.

"I have nothing to hide and want to be open and transparent," said Mr Connolly, who quit as leader last year.

"That is why I have referred myself to the standards committee. I have co-operated fully with the independent review and I will co-operate fully with this investigation.

"It would be inappropriate to comment further."

'Terrible error'

Mr Connolly has previously said he was wrong to have given Carter a written reference on council-headed notepaper ahead of his sentencing, describing the former Labour councillor as "trustworthy, honest and reliable".

The disciplinary reports stated former chief executive Mike Owen and head of children's services Mark Carriline had "inexplicably" and "deliberately" delayed implementing safeguarding procedures when allegations about Carter first came to light in the spring of 2015.

Image copyright Bury Council
Image caption Carter was given a three-year community sentence and placed on the sex offenders' register for five years

Investigators said the pair had done so to help the council's ruling Labour group before the 2015 election and protect Mr Connolly from public scrutiny.

Mr Owen apologised for any errors but denied any political motivation. Mr Carriline could not be contacted.

They have both since resigned.

At an emergency meeting on Thursday, Bury councillors voted unanimously in favour of publishing the results of the reports and agreed to carry out a further investigation into councillors' conduct.

Current council leader Rishi Shori said Mr Connolly had apologised for writing on headed notepaper in support of Carter "and I think he accepts this was a terrible error of judgement".

Any "necessary action" would be taken when the investigation had been completed, he said.

Image copyright Bury Council
Image caption Former chief executive Mike Owen and head of children's services Mark Carriline "deliberately delayed" implementing safeguarding procedures, an independent review found

Mr Rishi, who was elected in May 2016, commissioned an independent review which led to the reports.

He said: "These were individual failures by senior officers who blatantly didn't follow procedures in an unjustifiable manner.

"No child was put at risk in relation to these proceedings," he stressed, adding: "When I received the information [from a member of the public] I acted upon it decisively."

James Daly, leader of the Conservative group, said: "Yesterday was a very, very sad day for Bury Council.

"We simply cannot have in Bury the political fortunes of a party [no matter which party it is] trumping our responsibility to look after the most vulnerable children in our borough."

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