The seat of a disgraced ex-Sunderland councillor will be officially declared vacant next week.
Paul Middleton, who represented the Washington South ward, was given a suspended sentence by a judge this month after pleading guilty to attempting to sexually communicate with a child.
At a hearing at Newcastle Crown Court, it was revealed the 44-year-old dad thought he was speaking to a child living in a care home in 2017.
However, he had actually been communicating with a police officer who was involved in an online operation to snare paedophiles.
The ex-councillor was first elected in 2015 but suspended by the Labour Party last June, pending an investigation, after which he was was listed as an ‘independent’ councillor.
Following the guilty plea and conviction, he was also expelled from the party,
On January 30, Sunderland councillors will receive an update on Middleton’s former Washington South seat – which will be officially declared vacant.
Under the Local Government Act (1972), if a councillor fails to attend meetings for six months they will lose their position as a councillor.
The only exception refers to reasons approved by the council before that period expires.
Middleton last attended a Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee on June 6, 2018 but failed to attend a meeting before a set deadline of midnight on December 6.
Under council rules however, his departure will not trigger a by-election.
A report explains: “Where a casual vacancy occurs within six months before the day on which the councillor whose office is vacant would have retired in the ordinary course of events, an election shall not be held unless the total number of unfilled vacancies exceeds one third of the total membership of the council.”
Mr Middleton was sentenced to a four-month prison term, suspended for 18 months, ordered to abide by a sexual harm prevention order and to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register for seven years.
His former Washington South seat will be filled at the next ordinary council election on May 2 this year.
Sunderland City Council’s full council meeting takes place at Sunderland Civic Centre at 6pm.
For more information, visit: www.sunderland.gov.uk
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service