A TOP judge has made a landmark ruling that Bolton Council must release the name of a councillor who failed to pay council tax on time.

In a huge victory for The Bolton News and our reporter Dale Haslam, Upper Tribunal Judge Kate Marcus QC has allowed an appeal against a previous tribunal ruling — meaning the council must release the name of the Labour councillor in question within 35 days.

This means the identity of the shamed councillor must be revealed before April 20.

A spokesman for the council said:  “We are disappointed that the Upper Tribunal has not upheld previous decisions by the Information Commissioner and the First Tier Tribunal. “These two independent bodies both supported the council’s original decision to withhold private information about an individual.”

Bolton Council does have the right to appeal the decision, but the solicitor who fought our case — Caroline Kean — believes it is highly unlikely that the decision would be overturned.

She said: “I would imagine that this case will have cost the council a five figure sum and any appeal would potentially add five to ten thousand on top of that.

“But in any case, I would be very confident that any appeal would result in this decision standing.”

The news comes at the end of a tireless campaign by The Bolton News which began in 2013 when a Freedom of Information request revealed that two councillors — one Labour and one Conservative — had been summoned to court for the late payment of council tax.

In August 2014, Conservative Councillor Mudasir Dean came forward to admit that he was one of the two councillors implicated and apologised to the taxpayers of Bolton.

The Labour representative in question was twice summoned to court for not settling bills totalling £1,975.

Our investigation revealed that the individual was first ordered to go to court at some point between May 2011 and April 2012 for not paying £936 in council tax — with the summons withdrawn after the bill was paid in full.

The councillor was then sent another order at some point between May 2012 and April 2013 for not paying £1,039.89.

The summons was withdrawn after they entered into a payment plan with Bolton Council.

After our requests for the councillor’s name were rejected by the council, a town-hall case reviewer, the Information Commissioner and a First-Tier Tribunal — the case was brought before the Upper Tribunal’s administrative appeals chamber with Ms Kean’s media law firm Wiggin LLP representing Mr Haslam and The Bolton News.

In her landmark ruling, Judge Markus concluded that the decision of the First-Tier tribunal not to allow the naming of the councillor was “made in error of law.”

She said: “I conclude that disclosure of the identity of the councillor is necessary to achieve the objectives of transparency and accountability.

She added: “The Second Respondent (Bolton Council) must provide that information to the Appellant (Mr Haslam) within 35 days after the date on which this decision is sent to parties.”

Reacting to news of our victory, Ian Savage, editor of The Bolton News, said: “I am delighted with this news. It is not right that an elected official who is publicly accountable and potentially instrumental in setting the amount of council tax that the people of Bolton have to pay, should hide in this manner.

“Whether you believe non-payment of council tax is a private matter or not, there is definitely a difference between a private individual and a councillor.

“I think it is disgraceful that the council has gone to the lengths it has, and spent so much money, to keep this person’s name secret. Surely now he or she should do the decent thing and come forward, so this whole sorry saga can finally be put to bed.

“This is a fine example of journalism at its best and I cannot praise highly enough the tenacity of The Bolton News’ editorial team – particularly reporter Dale Haslam – who have refused to give up.

“If the council does decide to appeal against this decision – which would be even more disgraceful in my view - we will continue to fight for the people of Bolton.”

Bolton Councillors have also been responding, Cllr Dean said he believes the mystery councillor should have followed his lead.

He said: “I thought it was the right thing to let the people of Bolton know it was me and I think it would have been better if this person did the same.”

Liberal Democrat leader Roger Hayes praised a “victory for common sense,” adding: “It is a disgrace that this information didn’t come out sooner, but this is a win for democracy.”

UKIP leader Cllr Sean Hornby added: “Why does this Labour council think it is above the law? As councillors we should set an example and I am very pleased with this result.”