A FORMER town mayor raised his hand to agree to a motion of no confidence – in himself - at a meeting to discuss his position.

Despite already resigning as Mayor of Ferryhill, Councillor Richard Smith took part in the vote when members met to discuss his position as mayor and chairman of the County Durham authority.

In the latest twist to a row which has run for the last weeks, Labour members of Ferryhill Town Council had called for an extraordinary meeting to challenge Cllr Smith as chairman, claiming his social media posts about gay people and Islam had brought the council and post of mayor into disrepute.

But before the meeting was held, Cllr Smith had already handed in the chains of office, defending his right to hold beliefs rooted in the Bible – but saying the adverse publicity had threatened his family and church.

The meeting went ahead anyway and after hearing impassioned views from the public about equality and freedom of speech all 14 members present, including Cllr Smith and his wife Lauraine, raised their hand when asked if they agreed with the vote of no confidence.

During the meeting, a drag artist came face to face with Cllr Smith, who she had accused of sharing ‘homophobic’ views on social media and told him he was holding back her home town.

Last month Tess Tickle voiced concerns about Facebook posts shared by the then mayor, including an article which referred to gay people as sinners.

On Wednesday night she joined members of the public from both sides of the row who voiced their concerns before councillors cast a vote of no confidence in him as mayor and chairman – even though he resigned from the position last week.

Miss Tickle said: “Freedom of speech I totally understand but when in a position of power people look up to you being the mayor, I would look up to you as the mayor of this town and expect you to drive Ferryhill forward.

“With those views and opinions I want to know, do you as a council feel that those views will drive Ferryhill forward to equality and make everyone equal?

“If you are confident in this person, in Richard Smith, then vote for confidence.

“However since highlighting these issues I’ve lost confidence and want to know if you have. I want to be proud of where I come from and am standing by my community, my beliefs and who I am.”

Barrister Andrea Williams, of the Christian Legal Centre, travelled from London to support Cllr Smith and defend his legal entitlement to “freedom of speech, conscience and religion”.

She said: “I have looked at the Facebook posts from Tess Tickle and Richard Smith, it is a free and frank exchange of lawful ideas, rooted in Richard’s Christian beliefs and background. He is a Baptist minister known in this town for his service.

“Everything he has said is lawful, not hateful but lawful expression of opinion, but some of the responses to him have been potentially inflammatory and incitement.”

She urged members to reconsider the vote of no confidence, saying it was disproportionate and if the council continues to “punish” him it could be unlawful.

With the vote of no confidence no longer relevant, Cllr John Lindsay asked for an amendment calling for Cllr Smith to immediately resign from the council altogether.

But Deputy Mayor Councillor David Farry, who chaired the meeting, refused to hear the amendment saying it had not been raised early enough and the vote of no confidence was backed unanimously.

With limited space inside Ferryhill Town Hall, around a dozen people from both factions protested outside. While one group waved LGBT+ flags and sang Somewhere Over The Rainbow, another held banners with the slogan Je Suis Richard Smith and chanted ‘free speech for Christians’.

After the meeting Cllr Smith said: “I will not be intimidated for my beliefs and will continue as a councillor to participate in and promote initiatives brought forward for the benefit of all in our town.”