TWO councillors have defended their decision to deliver leaflets to households during coronavirus lockdowns.

The actions of Durham County Councillors Craig Martin and Joy Allen were described as “reprehensible” by political opponents, who accused them of putting self-promotion before public safety.

Cllr Martin, the Liberal Democrat councillor for North Lodge, and volunteers delivered leaflets in the Chester-le-Street area in early January – after the third national lockdown began – canvassing for votes in May's local elections.

He said he stopped as soon as the Government advised against door to door campaigning, stating it was “not considered essential or necessary activity”.

The Northern Echo:

Cllr Martin said: “Throughout this entire year of lockdowns I have fully followed the guidance and my party’s legal advice.

“Myself and volunteers were Covid safe. We didn’t get all the leaflets delivered by the Government’s cut-off point so I paid for the rest to be delivered by one person.

“I have been speaking to people as part of my job as a councillor and there is a letter going out from myself and colleagues, which I will deliver predominantly by myself, with information and advice about Covid safety and community issues and I believe it is part of my job as a Durham County Councillor to make sure residents are kept informed, it is a public service to reach out to people.”

Critics say Cllr Allen, Labour councillor for Bishop Auckland Town and Durham Police and Crime Commissioner candidate, posed an unnecessary risk to residents by hand delivering letters with useful numbers on to households last spring.

County Durham and Darlington Conservatives said the distribution of letters showed a pattern in conduct by Cllr Allen who, as previously-reported, visited a care home “for the purpose of a photo opportunity” when cakes were delivered by a local shop last May.

A spokesperson for County Durham and Darlington Conservatives said: “We were informed that political leaflets promoting Labour and Lib Dem Councillors were distributed during periods when the official instruction by the UK Government was to Stay at Home.

“Many people have had to make immense personal sacrifices to comply with lockdown restrictions under very tough circumstances.

“Elected councillors who represent our community must lead by example. Carelessly breaking the Stay at Home rules to promote oneself during a national crisis is reprehensible.

“Furthermore, this damages the public trust in the rules which are in place to save lives. It must not be the case that there is one rule for the councillors and another one for the residents.

“It is essential for all political parties in County Durham and Darlington to work together, follow lockdown rules, respect coronavirus campaigning restrictions and ensure that they keep everyone safe.”

The Northern Echo:

But Cllr Allen hit back, saying her work was about keeping isolated people informed and supporting residents and keyworkers on behalf of Bishop Auckland people as town mayor.

She said: "Like many hard working local councillors around the country my top priority has been to look after local people during this crisis. When the pandemic first hit I wrote a letter to local residents with key phone numbers and places they could find information about coronavirus.

“I’m shocked and saddened to find that almost a year later the Tories are complaining about that letter and trying to make something out of it for their own political ends. This is the worst of what politics is and people will see it for what it is.

“The Tories are trying to do anything to distract from the reality that their cuts to police over the past decade has made people less safe. They’ve cut police from the streets and given criminals a free pass. Cheap shots like this won’t distract people from that.”