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Backlash over Tory stance regarding drink-driver Cllr Mike Whiting

There are calls for a Conservative county councillor to stand down or have the whip removed after he was convicted of drink driving yesterday.

Fellow Tory members are said to be "disgruntled" and "thoroughly hacked off" at the leadership at Kent County Council for its support for Cllr Mike Whiting when the news broke he had been banned for 17 months.

Cllr Mike Whiting
Cllr Mike Whiting

Sheppey member Cllr Whiting, 64, was more than twice the legal limit when he was stopped by police in Sittingbourne last September.

A short statement released shortly after his conviction by chief whip Cllr Dylan Jeffrey said: "It is a private and personal matter and he has the full support of myself and the leader (Cllr Roger Gough)."

It sparked a furious backlash by backbenchers and the wider party membership.

Maidstone Tory county member Cllr Paul Cooper said: "This is a serious criminal matter. I do genuinely sympathise with Mike Whiting and, of course, he needs to be supported.

"But drink driving and all its implications cannot be swept under the carpet - it needed to be addressed rather than ignored and I think the leadership got the judgement wrong in that early statement and it misjudged the mood of the public and party colleagues."

County Hall in Maidstone
County Hall in Maidstone

Sarah Hudson, county member for Malling rural east, said: "To say that Mike had the chief whip and leader's full support was wrong and the message was changed later when there was an intense backlash from the back benches over the way it was handled.

"At the end of the day, people have had the whip removed for doing things that are not illegal. Mike Whiting has broken the law and brought the council into disrepute. So he should consider his position."

Another Tory councillor said: "You can safely say that there are a lot of members who are disgruntled and calling for the whip to be removed and for him to stand down.

"By saying that he had the full support of the leadership appeared, unwittingly, to condone a drink driver. That's not how other people were thinking.

"Other people were thinking that drink drivers endanger the lives of others and can cause untold misery to families. Many members are thoroughly hacked off, to say the least."

KCC councillor Dylan Jeffrey
KCC councillor Dylan Jeffrey

The court was told that Cllr Whiting was suffering the effects of long Covid and a recent bowel cancer diagnosis when the offence was committed.

In a later statement, Cllr Jeffrey said: "We do not in any way condone drink driving and we recognise the appalling consequences this crime can result in for all those involved.

"We believe that both the police and the justice system have dealt with this in the right and proper way.

"Mike Whiting remains a KCC councillor, and we will work with officers within our HR team, listening to any professional advice on this matter that we receive, in how best we can continue to support him in his recovery as he continues his battle with cancer."

In a further message sent to members, Cllr Jeffrey wrote: "In this period of Lent (even if you don't believe), let us reflect and remember the teachings of the Gospel of John, that he that is without sin amongst you, let him first cast a stone.

Cllr Sarah Hudson
Cllr Sarah Hudson

"I recognise that there are strong feelings about this subject but ask for a period of calm and to remember Mike is ultimately our friend and colleague and part of the blue family.

"He will now be exposed to intrusion into his private life having had the most personal details and personal battles spoken about and revealed in court and reported in the media and that is why we are seeking to support him at this time as he pays a very public penalty for what has happened.

"I offered prayers for Mike and for all our group for strength and comfort for us all in the days ahead."

Cllr Whiting is also a Swale borough councillor for Queenborough, Halfway and Rushenden and is a former managing editor and photographer with the KM Group.

He admitted drink driving and having no insurance.

Cllr Paul Cooper
Cllr Paul Cooper

In court, barrister Samir Pasha, defending Cllr Whiting, of Rooks View, Bobbing, said his client deeply regretted the offences.

Mr Pasha told the bench at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court: “He’s so remorseful, he never wanted to find himself on this side of the dock.

“He has devoted a lot of working years towards the public sector and to find himself here today, he is shameful and regretful."

In addition to his cancer battle and long Covid issues, the court was told that in August 2020 he was also diagnosed with depression and has been prescribed temazepam and has had therapy sessions to help him cope.

Cllr Whiting declined to comment when approached this morning.

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