A LABOUR councillor has been suspended after she joined protesters opposing council cuts.
City councillor Rosalind Copeland was hit with a three-month suspension by Sunderland’s Labour Group for going against the orders of party whips.
The ban means the Southwick ward member will not be able to take part in the group’s meetings or sit with Labour members at full council meetings.
Members voted to take action against Coun Copeland at a party meeting on Monday.
The Echo understands the row was ignited after the grandmother-of-two joined placard-carrying protestors in the city centre, ahead of an annual budget-setting meeting last month.
A group from North East People’s Assembly met to lobby councillors before the meeting, during which £35million of cuts for 2014/15 were given the green light.
Carrying placards in the shape of coffin lids to signify each public service they said will suffer because of the cuts, the group handed out leaflets and spoke to the Echo.
Coun Copeland attended the lobby in Park Lane before the meeting and supported the demonstrators.
Pointing out that she was not there to criticise the council, but to defend what it is legally bound to do in the face of Government cuts, she said: “I am here to defend my council and the decision my council will have to make – the agony we are facing as councillors.
“As council members, we are having to do things we don’t want to do. The Coalition is pilfering the working class. It is not this Labour group at fault.”
Supporters have given their backing to the 65-year-old, who was elected in May 2008.
Anti-cuts protestor Gary Duncan set up the online petition and a Facebook page calling for the suspension to be lifted.
He said: “As a Sunderland resident and Labour voter who actively opposes cuts to public services, I am absolutely disgusted by this suspension.
“How can the leaders of Sunderland’s Labour Party justify punishing one of their own councillors for fighting the cuts?”
A Labour Party insider, who did not want to be named, said: “Coun Copeland signed a letter in 2011 to say she would not talk to the press, unless it was ‘on message’.
“But if you started slinging people out of the Labour Party for opposing Tory cuts, there would be nobody left. She is a good local councillor.”
A spokesman for Labour Party North confirmed Coun Copeland had been suspended from the Labour Group for three months for going against the party whip.
She did not return the Echo’s calls asking for a comment.
Council leader Paul Watson said: “There is an internal Labour Group enquiry live at the present moment. It is against party rules to discuss the situation until we have an outcome and the process is fully concluded.”