Struck-off councillor keeps Tory whip on Hunts council - for now

STRUCK-off physiotherapist Ken Churchill has retained his membership of the Conservative group on Huntingdonshire District Council – just.

Although a majority of the members of the group favoured suspending him at a private meeting on Monday evening, the two-thirds majority required for a member to be suspended or expelled was not reached.

But Councillor Churchill, who is also a magistrate, faces a similar process on Friday when the controlling Tory group on Cambridgeshire County Council will decide whether to endorse their leader’s decision 10 days ago to withdraw the party whip.

The move followed a decision by the Health Professions Council that his name should be struck from the register of physiotherapists after it found that an alleged inappropriate sexual relationship with a vulnerable patient amounted to serious misconduct and that his fitness to practice was impaired as a result.

County council leader Nick Clarke also ordered that Cllr Churchill’s membership of Cambridgeshire Police Authority and some council committees be suspended until the matter had been investigated.

On Friday, Conservative colleagues at Shire Hall will decide whether Cllr Churchill’s suspension from the group should be upheld and, if so, for how long.

Cllr Churchill told this newspaper that he had been set up by “a disgruntled 72-year-old client” who was unhappy that he had stopped treating her.

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HDC leader Councillor Jason Ablewhite said Cllr Churchill had put up “a very robust case” at Monday’s meeting of the district Tory group.

“Our constitution is set up in a way that, in order to suspend or expel a member a two-thirds majority of a minimum of one-third of the whole group – our quorum – is needed,” Cllr Ablewhite told The Hunts Post.

“The majority of the group voted to suspend Cllr Churchill with immediate effect in the light of the recent revelations about him. Unfortunately, it was a few votes short of a two-thirds majority, so Cllr Churchill is still a member of the Conservative group on HDC.

“From a leadership point of view, my next step will be looking at what happens at the county group on Friday, which I shall be watching with interest.

“If they vote to suspend and we take a different view, his position would become untenable everywhere.

“You don’t suspend or expel someone lightly, but we are still in a position where a majority of the group has voted to suspend him. There was a lot of support from him at a personal level and respect for his achievements. But some members pointed out – at a very civilised meeting – that he had brought the group, the party and the council into disrepute.”

Cllr Churchill said afterwards: “I gave my presentation and they voted: there were insufficient for the motion to be passed. So the members present voted in favour of not suspending me from the group, so I’m doing what I’m doing at the moment.”