Redbridge Council leader suspended from Labour Party over 'serious allegation'
PUBLISHED: 09:43 07 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:12 07 October 2019
The leader of Redbridge Council has been suspended from the Labour Party over "extremely serious allegations".
Labour has reopened candidate applications for the Ilford South constituency after Jas Athwal was suspended by the party hours before a selection decision was due to be made.
Cllr Athwal said "untrue allegations" were made against him in August, but he was only advised that he had been suspended on Friday night.
Party members were due to select their preferred candidate at a meeting on Saturday.
A Labour source denied accusations of a "stitch-up", saying "extremely serious allegations" had been made against Cllr Athwal and the timing had nothing to do with the selection process.
The source said: "This decision was taken by a panel following a report from an independent investigator from a specialist organisation. The case was anonymised so the panel did not know who the individual was.
"The timing has nothing to do with the selection process. Yesterday was the earliest opportunity for the case to be reviewed following the independent investigator's report."
But Cllr Athwal said in a statement: "Untrue allegations were made against me on August 13.
"I responded in detail to the Labour Party on August 20, with supporting evidence including witness statements, proving the allegations were untrue.
"No reply was received from the Labour Party. Nothing was heard until late yesterday, my solicitor was emailed at 11pm, advising that I was suspended from the Labour Party.
"This is not a fair process. It is contrary to natural justice. All I seek is a fair hearing and due process.
"The Labour Party has had every opportunity to deal with this matter properly and fairly in the past seven weeks and chose only to act late yesterday by suspending me when I have no time to challenge that decision. This is why people are so upset."
Labour MP for Ilford North Wes Streeting thanked those who had raised objections to what he described as an "undemocratic stitch-up" in his neighbouring constituency.
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He tweeted to say the "suspension of the local frontrunner just 15 hours before the vote is politically motivated and biased in order to stitch up the selection".
A Labour Party spokesman said: "NEC officers have decided to reopen the applications to allow for other candidates to put their names forward.
"The meeting supported this course of action.
"The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously, which are investigated and any appropriate disciplinary action taken in line with the party's rules and procedures.
"We can't comment on individual cases."
Ilford South has been held by Mike Gapes since 1992, but he quit Labour earlier this year and is now a member of the Independent Group for Change.
Redbridge Council Conservative group leader Cllr Linda Huggett called for Cllr Athwal "to do the right thing and step aside as leader of Redbridge Council until the matter is resolved".
She said: "It is important there is no distraction from the vital work to be done to improve the lives of our residents.
"Redbridge must come first."
A Redbridge Council spokeswoman said: "No allegations against Cllr Athwal have been referred to the council. Cllr Athwal remains the leader."