ALLEGATIONS of sexual harassment and bullying within Bolton Town Hall have been made by a councillor who branded it a "cesspit of immorality".

Tory Cllr Paul Brierley says he has compiled a dossier of 12 current and former employees who claim to have suffered harassment over the last two years. Bolton Council leaders have bitterly condemned his accusations, claiming they are a "slur" on all town hall employees. They have challenged him to produce his evidence.

Today Bolton West MP Ruth Kelly urged town hall chiefs to launch an investigation.

Anger erupted when Cllr Brierley revealed his accusations at a meeting of Bolton Council. He read from a prepared statement and spoke of "a daily experience of bullying, victimisation, discrimination and sexual harassment" being suffered by a "number of people." Fellow members tried to shout him down, but undaunted, he continued adding: "One cannot imagine what these ladies have gone through and are in fact still going through.

"Many female members of staff feel they cannot turn to anybody. They feel they are working in a cesspit of immorality as these problems are spread throughout a number of departments."

Cllr Brierley also claimed some employees were drinking alcohol while at work.

Bolton Council leader, Cllr Bob Howarth, angrily confronted Cllr Brierley at the stormy meeting. He told other councillors: "It is outrageous to suggest this town hall is a cesspit of immorality. If this councillor has evidence to support his claims we would like to see it.

"There is no truth that this is a widespread problem. He is basing it on one incident."

Last year the Bolton Evening News reported how a senior council officer was suspended after an allegation of sexual assault by a female colleague.

This newspaper has now discovered that an investigation found the man guilty of inappropriate touching but ruled this did not constitute serious harassment according to council policy.

The officer was given a verbal warning and is now back in work.

Cllr Rosa Kay, the council's executive member for human resources today said: "I consider Cllr Brierley's accusations a slur on all our employees. They do not deserve this tirade. It was calculated, inflammatory language out of all proportion to the situation and is potentially dangerous and could undermine the well established system we have to handle these issues."

Bolton MP Ruth Kelly said she was concerned about the allegations and urged the council to investigate.

She said she had earlier written to the council after a constituent made a complaint about alcohol in the town hall, but had not received a reply.

The MP said: These are very serious allegations. No employee no matter where they work should be afraid or deterred from making an official complaint about an incident of harassment of bullying in the workplace.""I hope that the council looks seriously into all the allegations raised at the council meeting. I will be raising this matter with the leader of the council."

A Bolton Council spokesman said that over the last two years there had been 27 formal complaints ranging from sexual harassment to bullying from its 13,000 employees. The majority have been resolved but a handful were still under investigation.

The spokesman said: "We are a large organisation with some 13,000 staff and treat extremely seriously any allegations such as this. With such a large workforce we are well aware of the potential for claims and there are mechanisms in place and agreed with the unions to deal with it.

"The workplace welfare of our staff is paramount to us and if Cllr Brierley would like to pursue this further we can arrange for a private meeting with Cllr Rosa Kay and the Chief Executive.

"We were rather surprised considering the seriousness of the publicly made claim that no other member of the council seems to have been aware of the allegation he made."