A ROW has broken out after a party leader was barred from sitting on a council for failing to attend a meeting for six months.

Darlington Borough Council’s Lib Dem leader Martin Swainston, who vowed to challenge the decision, said he was furious and believes it was politically motivated.

He said he has missed meetings because he has been caring for his wife, who has been seriously ill for two years, and has confided in council officers about his problems as well as submitting apologies for all missed attendances.

However, the council said Mr Swainston, who represented Hurworth, has broken the rules, which state a member ceases to be a councillor if they fail to attend a meeting for more than six months without seeking dispensation.

They said Mr Swainston did not let any officer know of his personal circumstances, and said no councillor had ever been refused a request for dispensation.

A council spokesman said: “Mr Swainston did not alert council officers to any personal circumstances which may have impacted on his ability to attend meetings.

“Whilst we are sympathetic to any councillor who is experiencing difficult personal circumstances and have granted authority for extensions in several cases, it is not the responsibility of the council to alert members who fail to attend meetings to enable them to avoid the application of the rule.

“Whilst Mr Swainston’s position as councillor has currently ended, he has not been disqualified as a councillor and is entitled to stand for election as a ward councillor in any future by-elections.”

But Mr Swainston said he was angry at the decision, and the fact the memo sent to other councillors also included notice of the disqualification of Mark Burton, who was barred from being a councillor after he was jailed for 22 months for sexually assaulting a schoolgirl and downloading indecent images of children.

Mr Swainston said: “I am extremely angry about the whole situation. This has come totally out of the blue. I have not had a warning letter, or any indication this would happen.

“I have been carrying out ward casework during this time, I have made my apologies for every meeting and I have even confided in one of the officers the details of why I have not attended. My wife has been extremely ill and I have had to look after her.

“I think the council has been very hasty about this. It is incompetence or it is politically-motivated. It is absolutely disgusting the way it has been handled. I have had no opportunity to defend myself or put my point of view forward.

“I am going to appeal this decision. If I lose my appeal, I will re-stand in the by-election.”

A date for the by-elections has yet to be set.