SIX Conservative councillors have defected an become independents following controversy over the suspension of three members.

The move means that the Conservative party has lost its majority on Ryedale District Council (RDC) which covers towns including Helmsley, Pickering and Malton.

The six defecting councillors are John Windress, chairman of RDC planning committee, four former chairs of the council, Cllr Janet Frank, Cllr Eric Hope, Cllr John Raper and Cllr David Cussons, along with RDC leader Linda Cowling.

The resignations follow the suspension of Cllrs Cowling, Cussons and Raper.

The councillors say they have not been given a reason for their suspension although controversy did arise last autumn after Cllr Raper voted twice in a debate.

He pressed his own electronic device to vote on a motion regarding the timing of council meetings, and then pressed that of Cllr Cussons, who was absent from the meeting.

Cllr Cussons said he was ‘very distressed’ to return from London after receiving an MBE for services to agriculture only to find a letter from the Conservative Association saying he was suspended from the group, pending expulsion.

He said: “As a long-standing councillor of 22 years on RDC and lifelong Conservative party member, I have not taken the decision lightly to become Independent, but I feel let down by the association, who have not given me any reason for my suspension and have created irreconcilable differences between some members and themselves for a long time now.”

He added that he has been “overwhelmed” by messages of support from council members across the groups and from constituents.

Cllr Cowling wanted to reassure residents that the defections will not affect the councillors’ ability to represent their wards.

She added: “Although we were ready to leave as soon as Cllr Cussons was suspended, without explanation, by the association, we have waited until now to make this decision public in order to save unnecessary disruption to the council.”

A spokesman for Thirsk and Malton Conservative Association said it regretted the resignations.

He added: “The reasons for the suspensions were to do with the members’ non-attendance and non-compliance regarding standard Conservative Party disciplinary processes in connection with voting irregularities.”