Tory councillors have taken the first steps towards taking libel action against two Labour candidates over campaign literature ahead of May’s local elections.
They say Ehthesham Haque, in Barnes Ward, and Martin Old in the St Chad’s Ward, have both made untrue and unfounded claims in their campaign literature about where their Conservative opponents reside.
Both Labour candidates circulated leaflets carrying the claims within three days of one another.
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The Tories say Mr Haque has falsely suggested that Conservative group leader Cllr Antony Mullen does not live in Sunderland, but in Bolton, while Mr Old has claimed that St Chad’s ward member Coun William Blackett has spent most of his time since being elected as a councillor in 2018 living in Leeds.
The party says Cllrs Mullen and Blackett both live in Sunderland and neither has ever lived in Bolton or Leeds.
Cllr Mullen lives within the Barnes Ward, also working from his home office, while trainee teacher Coun Blackett lives in the city.
Cllr Mullen said he was particularly puzzled by the criticism of Cllr Blackett, who is not seeking re-election when the city goes to the polls on Thursday, May 5.
“The Labour Party is desperate to cling to power,” he said.
"Its candidates are trying to win votes by making false claims about where local Conservative councillors live.
“I have never lived or worked in Bolton, as Labour has claimed. I have lived exclusively at my current address in the Barnes Ward for many years. I have no intention of moving.
“As a result of this false claim, I have instructed a solicitor to pursue Mr Haque who, as it happens, lives in Millfield, for defamation.
“Likewise, Coun William Blackett has never lived in Leeds.
“The attack on William is perplexing, as Labour does not appear to have realised he is not seeking re-election. His successor as our candidate, Simon Ayre, lives in Herrington.
“Both these leaflets have gone out within a few days of one another, which gives the appearance of a co-ordinated attempt by the Labour Party to win votes through deception.
"There is clearly an urgent need for Labour to correct these false claims if this is a case of its inexperienced candidates going rogue.
“These smears are designed to damage our reputations and to cause voters to distrust us by suggesting we do not live at the residential addresses we have declared to the Council."
City council leader Coun Graeme Miller, who heads the city’s Labour Group, declined to comment on the details of the proceedings directly.
“The Labour Party does not comment on ongoing legal proceedings,” he said.
“We are busy working for the people of Sunderland and are campaigning on the issues that matter; like the cost of living crisis and the slashing of public services by this incompetent Tory Government.
"It is a shame the local Tories are so out of touch with people’s worries that they have nothing to say on these issues.”