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Sunderland Labour councillor denies deliberately insulting dyslexic Lib Dem rival in heated meeting

Coun Graeme Miller
Coun Graeme Miller

A councillor has hit back over claims that he deliberately insulted a political rival over his dyslexia in a heated meeting, describing the accusations as "nonsense."

Liberal Democrat councillor Stephen O'Brien has called on Labour's Graeme Miller to apologise and resign from his cabinet post for comments made during a Sunderland City Council meeting this week.

Coun Stephen O'Brien

Coun Stephen O'Brien

The flashpoint occurred as Coun O'Brien asked a question about the budget for the forthcoming Tall Ships Races.

But before Cabinet Secretary, Coun Mel Speding, could respond, his Labour colleague Coun Miller said he should "use small words" in his reply.

Coun O'Brien said he felt the remark was unfair as he is dyslexic and walked out of the meeting in disgust before later returning.

He has called on Coun Miller to resign as the Council's cabinet member for health, housing and adult services - which includes responsibility for services for adults with disabilities - and says he is also considering referring his political opponent to the City Council's standards board for breaking the councillors' code of conduct which requires elected politicians to "treat others with respect" and to "not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing the Council or your office into disrepute."

But Coun Miller, who has held his cabinet post for six years, insists he is a disabilities champion for the council and has worked with a host of mental health and autism organisations across the city during the years.

He described the situation as "fake news and nonsense" and called the claims "disgraceful" given his own family background.

He said: "All I said was 'use small words' to Coun Mel Speding, that is exactly what I said, because Councillor Speding was responding to a question from the Liberal Democrats about the Tall Ships and they couldn't seem to understand the budget and why the budget had increased.

"It was a humorous comment, the type you get in that sort of debate.

"It is a nonsense, my wife is dyslexic. My son his Asperger's and has learning difficulties and he is 29-years-old, so for anybody to suggest I am against people with disabilities, is totally disgraceful."

Coun O'Brien is also calling for extra training for councillors on disabilities awareness and said Coun Miller's comments in the meeting were "a total disgrace."

He added: "I was in total shock that a local councillor could say something so indescribably stupid. Graeme Miller may not like my politics, my campaigns, or my political party - but it is no excuse to make outrageous and wholly unacceptable remarks about a disability.

"He should also resign his Adult Services portfolio. He is being paid a 'Special Responsibility Allowance' of £20,715 of taxpayers' money to be in charge of the Council's services for adults with disabilities - but his disgraceful attitude has shown that he is completely unfit for office."