TWO councillors embroiled in a row over alleged bullying have resigned.

Conservatives David and Wendy Morton quit their seats on Richmondshire District Council (RDC) yesterday after Mr Morton swore at a political opponent during a meeting on Tuesday.

He apologised the next day, but yesterday said his health had suffered during bitter wrangling within the authority.

Mr Morton said: "We have both enjoyed helping people in our wards in their dealings with council, but feel that at present my health comes first, and the last 18 months have not been kind to us.

"It is clear that if councillors try to challenge or criticise officers at RDC they do so at their peril for the consequences."

Mrs Morton, who represented Bolton Castle ward and will stand for the Conservatives in Tynemouth, North Tyneside, at the next General Election, was one of five councillors accused of bullying two officers amid claims that a new political group, the Independent Coalition for Richmondshire (ICR), was formed illegally.

The Richmondshire Five, as they became known, were found guilty of bullying by an investigation commissioned by the council, but cleared by the Standards Board for England.

The council will cut its staffing budget by £100,850 to cover a possible legal claim by monitoring officer Margaret Barry. The five councillors are understood to be considering an apology to her.

Mr Morton, who represented Leyburn, swore and lunged at ICR councillor Richard Dunn during an argument on Tuesday over whether Mrs Morton had apologised to Mrs Barry.

Chief executive Harry Tabiner would not comment on the resignations, but said that because they came less than six months before local elections, by-elections were unlikely.

Tory councillor John Blackie, the council leader, said: "David and Wendy Morton were two hard-working members who represented well their local communities, and it is a sad loss."

ICR leader Councillor Bill Glover said the resignations of six members from the Conservative group in the past year indicated a poor operation of the council.

Meanwhile, the Unison public services union wants urgent talks with the council over the budget cuts.

Regional official Phil Booth said: "It is absolutely preposterous that the council is suggesting that our members will have to pay the price for the councillors' alleged behaviour which, if proved, is unlawful."