Calls have been made for an independent inquiry to take place before taking further action against a councillor over sharing of offensive and racist Facebook posts.

A standards hearing was held by the Hartlepool Borough Council Audit and Governance Committee in January following a complaint over posts shared by Fens and Rossmere Councillor Tony Richardson on his Facebook page.

The hearing found four posts were found to be a significant breach of Hartlepool Borough Council’s code of conduct.

In December, Coun Richardson shared a post likening an immigrant trying to claim benefits to a dog, while three other offensive posts were also considered in the investigation.

Coun Ged Hall, chair of the Audit and Governance Committee, noted Coun Richardson apologised to the committee and explained his actions were not racially motivated but attributable to his naivety and difficulties using social media.

The report went before a Full Hartlepool Borough Council meeting on Thursday, and councillors voted to defer endorsing actions of the report to allow for an independent inquiry to take place first.

They also noted they wanted to wait to see if police take any action over the posts.

Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “There has been no formal investigation by the police to say the law has actually been broken.

“I’m somewhat uncomfortable at this moment in time making a decision when we’re still awaiting the outcome of any pending police investigation.

“The report is based on probability and I think that’s a much weaker test than what police would consider beyond reasonable doubt.

“In the media over the last week there’s people who have been hounded by the press for decisions that have yet to reach court and they’ve had dire consequences on the lives of them and their family.”

Coun Stephen Akers Belcher seconded this and called for an independent inquiry into the incident.

He said: “Hartlepool has a true history of supporting and welcoming people to Hartlepool and we can’t lose sight of that.

“If Councillor Tony Richardson is a racist he should be hounded out of office and the people will make that decision.

“I think we should have an independent inquiry into this so it can be looked at independently and we can examine it.”

Calls had previously been made for Coun Richardson, who now sits as an Independent, to resign following the incident, but he said previously he would not be doing so.

This included calls from the community group Hartlepool Against Racism, and members of the group handed out flyers outside the Civic Centre ahead of the meeting.

However Coun Lee Cartwright said Coun Richardson was not a racist, adding he hadn’t received his social media training at the time of sharing the posts.

He said: “Over the last year I’ve had the pleasure of working with Councillor Tony Richardson and I absolutely don’t see him as a racist at all.

“Yes he is IT illiterate, that’s why he gets all his paperwork delivered, yes he has hit the share button, however he should have pressed the delete button.”

Coun Paddy Brown, leader of the Labour Party on the council, said the shared posts were ‘innately racist’ and open the doors to racial hatred.

He said: “We’re a town that proudly looks after our own, regardless of race, religion or background, and these bigoted sentiments are in direct conflict to this.

“We believe it is vital all councillors from across the floor ensure this kind of rhetoric never enters the mainstream so these racist and bigoted malcontents remain marginalised.”

Coun Brenda Harrison noted there is a difference between the law and the ‘ethical law’ councillors are responsible for upholding, and said they should have been able to go ahead with the report recommendations.

Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher, Socialist Labour Party representative, also claimed there was ‘hypocrisy’ within the Labour Group as he had witnessed racism within the party.

Coun Dave Hunter, deputy leader of the Labour Group on the council, said any papers suggesting racism should be brought to solicitors, and he had not experienced any racism in the group.

The motion to defer the report being endorsed was passed by 13 votes to 11.