‘I have been stabbed in the back’

St Helens town hall
St Helens town hall
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A long-serving councillor has been ditched from his party’s election ticket to make way for the controversial niece of St Helens’ MP elect.

Coun Geoff Almond, who would have celebrated 40 years since he was first elected office in May, was de-selected from his ward to make way for Carole-Ann Gill.

The retired headteacher, who served as St Helens mayor in 2011-12, says he has been left “devastated” by what he described as a “betrayal by people I though were friends and colleagues”.

He had expected that as a serving councillor he would automatically be named as the town centre’s Labour candidate in May’s local elections, as is normal practice.

Instead, without any prior warning, he turned up for the start of the selection process to find Ms Gill, niece of ex-council leader Marie Rimmer and Labour’s candidate to succeed Shaun Woodward as St Helens South MP, had also put her name forward.

Sitting councillors are normally put forward unopposed from within the party - unless they are performing extremely poorly. Coun Almond is, by common consent, one of the borough’s hardest-working councillors.

“I’m absolutely devastated, I really am,” Coun Almond told The Reporter. “These were people I thought were friends and colleagues. I have worked really hard over the past four years and if I had been kicked out by the electorate then that would be different but I feel I have been betrayed.”

Ms Gill represented the town centre ward for two years but stood down shortly after becoming embroiled into a controversy surrounding lewd posters on her Facebook page.

She faced criticism for uploading distasteful jokes about the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher but was found not to have breached the council’s code of conduct. She later stood down, citing “health reasons”.

Ms Gill told friends, including Coun Almond, she wanted to resume her political career at May’s election. But Coun Almond says she told him she would not contest his seat.

He added: “I turned up to the selection meeting and found she had put her name on the shortlist. I was stunned. She had told me she was ready to come back but to stand against me was something I never thought she would do.

“I went into the interview and did the best I could. I told them that I had loved serving the town centre ward and wanted the opportunity to continue but the vote came back in favour of Carole-Ann.”

He added: “I want to stress that I’ve not fallen out with the Labour Party and if a seat became vacant I would consider going for it. It will be 40 years in May since I was first elected to council, so it is a shame I won’t be there for that.”

Coun Rimmer, who is currently on bail after she was charged with assaulting a Scottish independence campaigner, and Ms Gill were unavailable for comment.

A St Helens Labour Party spokesman said: “The selection was carried out within the rules of the Labour Party, any member is entitled to seek selection and then it is the democratic right of the members to choose who they wish to represent the Labour Party at election time.

“This is an internal Labour Party matter and as the selection was carried out sometime ago, the matter is closed. Coun Almond is undoubtedly disappointed in the outcome of the selection but as a Labour Party member and as a democrat, I am sure he will work hard to get Carole-Ann elected.”

g Councillor’s Facebook slur - page 17