A COUNCILLOR who left Labour last year has broken her silence over her departure. Local Democracy Reporter JOSEPH TIMAN reveals why she quit.

THE Labour Party has been accused of harbouring an endemic “victim-blaming mentality” which “enables” misogyny, after it failed to sanction a councillor for years of alleged misbehaviour.

Complaints dating back eight years, including one from an MP, repeatedly describe Liam Irving’s conduct as aggressive, belligerent and threatening.

Multiple “final” warning letters were issued within an 18-month period for separate incidents, but no further action was taken.

A regional Labour Party disciplinary panel raised “grave concerns” following an investigation into his behaviour months before he stood down as a councillor.

Accusations of harassment and stalking, some of which were reported to the police, include allegedly telling a fellow Labour councillor he had been watching her house on a regular basis.

Frequent verbal abuse towards another colleague, Cllr Debbie Newall, include allegedly shouting “here comes the poisoned dwarf” when she would walk her dogs on the estate where he lives.

After years of demanding sanctions against the former councillor, Cllr Newall left the Labour Party last year in protest at the leadership’s inaction.

READ MORE: Labour member resigns after council cabinet meeting

The Breightmet councillor told The Bolton News that she wanted Mr Irving to be temporarily suspended and publicly apologise to his colleagues for his behaviour.

She said: “What I wanted was for there to be a public statement that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable. The way to do that is for him to go in front of the group and be offered a sanction as a punishment – it’s a declaration that this isn’t right.”

But the former cabinet member claims that she was “fobbed off” by the group as excuses were constantly made for his behaviour.

Cllr Newall described the problem as “endemic”, saying that the Labour Party struggles to admit when there is a problem, citing anti-Semitism as an example.

She said: “It’s not being super critical to say that there’s a problem because there can be all kinds of reasons why it’s there. The Labour Party for many, many years was very much a male-dominated thing. It started off like that. I can understand, a long time ago, it being male-dominated. But attitudes have to change and we’re in the 21st century.

“He’s the only person I would have accused of misogyny. But the culture is that other people enable it. If you don’t address it, if you don’t try to solve the problem, maybe you’re part of the problem.”

Years of complaints and allegations

In a series of letters and emails seen by The Bolton News, spanning a four-year period, dozens of complaints were made against the former councillor by party activists, a Labour MP and members of the public.

However, the first allegation dates back to 2011, when Mr Irving was accused of engaging in a homophobic rant towards a pub landlord two days after he was elected as a Kearsley councillor.

Referring to the incident, Cllr Newall told then council leader Cliff Morris that Mr Irving had an ongoing vendetta against people he believed had wronged him.

She wrote: “If a firmer grip on his behaviour had been taken in 2011, then perhaps he wouldn’t feel so empowered to bully and abuse people today.”

Cllr Newall, a Kearsley resident, was not a councillor when she first complained about Mr Irving in 2014.

Her initial complaint, in which Mr Irving allegedly had to be “physically restrained” outside a local Labour meeting, resulted in a final written warning issued by leader Cliff Morris and chief whip Kevan Jones.

After a dispute at the branch meeting, Mr Irving was said to have appeared out of the bar looking “very dishevelled”, waving his fist and hurling abuse at Cllr Newall and her husband.

Colin Newall, who suffered heart irregularities after the “traumatic event”, said he feared Mr Irving would have assaulted him had he not been restrained.

Despite initially denying some of the allegations Mr Irving signed an apology letter a month after the incident.

But the next year he received another “final” warning – this time from Cllr Martin Donaghy who consulted regional party officials.

This followed a series of further complaints including a public dispute at a residents’ meeting with MP Yasmin Qureshi at St Saviour’s School which Mr Irving chaired.

The Bolton News:

He was accused of actively stopping any questions to the MP about local issues in an “arrogant, belligerent and unprofessional manner”.

When Cllr Newall intervened, she said Mr Irving stood up and walked towards, her jabbing his finger as he told her off.

The new chief whip, Cllr Donaghy, told The Bolton News that the first letter was “tarnished” because it went through the wrong channels. He discovered that only the chief whip should enforce party discipline.

Cllr Donaghy said: “When we spoke to Liam Irving he immediately countered it and said he was being bullied. Looking back now, I would certainly have tried to bring the case before the Labour group sooner.”

Sixth months after the written warning was issued by Cllr Donaghy, Cllr Newall told the chief whip she would not attend any further branch meetings in Kearsley because she did not feel safe when Mr Irving was there.

In a letter, she claimed that Mr Irving was allowed to rant at, intimidate and demean women on a regular basis.

She said: “The man is out of control and I will not allow myself to be subjected to this kind of abuse any longer.”

Sir David Crausby also sent a complaint about Mr Irving’s behaviour, describing it as inappropriate, unprofessional and aggressive.

The Bolton North East MP wrote to the council leader, Cllr Linda Thomas last year claiming that Mr Irving intimidated a member of his staff.

Mr Irving is alleged to have shouted down the intercom demanding to be let in to Sir David’s constituency office and given Labour rosettes and stickers.

Despite attempts to “de-escalate” the situation, Mr Irving is said to have told the member of staff to “stick your stickers up your a***”.

Sir David said: “My staff are well-skilled at dealing with these sorts of challenging situations, but don’t expect this kind of behaviour from councillors who have been elected to public office. This sort of behaviour by a councillor in a public place could be very damaging to the local Labour Party.”

'Grave concerns' about behaviour

This complaint was passed on to a regional party disciplinary panel which investigated Mr Irving’s conduct.

Last June, the panel wrote to Mr Irving telling him the matter was being taken “extremely seriously” and that conduct of this nature would “not be seen as acceptable”.

The local Labour group was told to monitor Mr Irving’s conduct and make sure he takes part in equalities training.

However, Cllr Newall was adamant that he should be put before the group to apologise.

She threatened to leave the party on several occasions and finally handed in her membership card in November following a meeting with Cllr Thomas.

While sad to have left, she described her decision as “cathartic” and wishes she had done it earlier.

She said: “I feel very strongly about Labour Party policies – certainly in Bolton – and I’d just been promoted in the May. So I walked away from an awful lot.”

Despite wanting to rejoin the party after Mr Irving stood down in May, Cllr Newall now says she will not stand as a Labour candidate next year because the process of rejoining has been “problematic”.

READ MORE: Councillor 'in limbo' as she tries to rejoin Labour six months after leaving

The Bolton News contacted Labour leader, Cllr Linda Thomas, but she was unavailable for comment.

Former leader Cllr Morris told The Bolton News that he could not remember all of the details of the allegations but he believes that the matter was dealt with by the regional panel.

He said: “At the end of the day, as far as I’m concerned, they were dealing with it. They were both asked questions. I felt it was being dealt with.”

The Bolton News:

Labour chief whip, Cllr Kevin McKeon, said that Mr Irving was not willing to speak to The Bolton News about the allegations.

He said: “Debbie and Liam are no longer members of the Labour Group. When they were, they had a contentious relationship. Personality clashes are notoriously difficult to resolve, particularly when two headstrong individuals are involved.

“Successive Chief Whips did their best to mediate between the two without success. They made the judgement that it would not be productive to bring the issue before the Group. Liam contested the ‘final warnings’ given to him.

“Shortly before I became Chief Whip in June 2018, a Regional Labour Party disciplinary panel had concluded that Liam should have some equalities training. I arranged for that to happen and Liam willingly took part.

“However, before this took place, Debbie decided to leave the Labour Group and the Labour Party. The Labour Group is disappointed she feels unable to accept the decision taken by the Party.

“Liam has his own outstanding grievance against Debbie which the Regional Labour Party could not investigate as she has left the Party.”

The Bolton News visited Mr Irving’s house in Stoneclough and spoke to neighbours, but he was unavailable for comment. Labour North West said it could not comment on individual cases.

A party spokesman said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously, they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken. We can’t comment on individual cases.”

Timeline: how it all unfolded

May 2011

Liam Irving is accused of engaging in a homophobic rant at a pub landlord.

June 2014

Three members complain about Mr Irving’s behaviour after a meeting. He says they are “totally fabricated lies”.

July 2014

Council leader Cliff Morris and chief whip Kevan Jones issue final warning letters to Mr Irving who apologises “wholeheartedly” in a letter to Debbie and Colin Newall.

March 2015

Mr Irving accused of repeatedly interrupting MP Yasmin Qureshi at a Kearsley residents’ meeting.

August 2015

Links to a website for fat-burning pills are sent from Mr Irving’s email address to several councillors and Debbie Newall but he denies sending them.

December 2015

Chief whip Martin Donaghy issues a final formal written warning to Mr Irving following an investigation.

June 2016

Weeks after being elected as a councillor, Debbie Newall says she will stop attending Kearsley branch meetings because she does not feel safe when Mr Irving is there.

January 2017

Mr Irving allegedly refuses to take part in a poorly-attended branch meeting because he wants to watch the football.

July 2017

Cllr Newall reports Mr Irving to the police for shouting at her in the street.

November 2017

Cllr Newall puts complaints to the national Labour party.

February 2018

Regional disciplinary panel investigates Mr Irving.

May 2018

Sir David Crausby MP complains about Mr Irving’s behaviour at his office.

June 2018

Regional panel tells Bolton chief whip Mr Irving must complete equalities training.

November 2019

Cllr Newall leaves the party after demanding that Mr Irving is suspended.

May 2019

Cllr Newall applies to rejoin Labour subject to an eight-week probationary period.