A Peterborough councillor – cleared of allegedly plotting against council leader Wayne Fitzgerald – has spoken of a ‘bullying, toxic’ culture within the ruling group that he says nearly killed him.
Cllr Mohammed Farooq, president of the NW Conservative Association, was re-instated but then quit the Conservative group on Peterborough City Council.
He was invited back into the Tory fold two days ago (Monday June 5th) at the Conservative group meeting after there was found to be no evidence to support these allegations.
“I’ve been in a toxic atmosphere been victimized, been bullied and the suspension over the last three weeks has been the final straw,” he said in an exclusive interview with respected Peterborough journalist Paul Stainton for CambsNews.
“It has almost killed me.”
His explosive interview, recorded yesterday and released today, means another resignation – and an even more troublesome headache – for Peterborough City Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald.
Cllr Farooq, a successful businessman and councillor for Hargate and Hempsted since 2018, described the moment he receive notice of his suspension.
“On the Saturday when I received this fabricated piece of paper, I had chest pains.
“I had a heart attack would you believe because of that fabricated piece of paper which alleges something which I did not do, and I thought that was the final straw.
The vast majority of people involved with local politics are decent and have the best interests of their community at heart. There is no place for this type of toxic bullying which only fuelled by egos. https://t.co/ekxwvZGlKZ
— Stephen Ferguson (@borofergie) June 7, 2023
“The bullying text messages what I’ve gone through has been an unbelievable burden and unbelievable stress for me, my family and particularly for my health
“I’m a colitis patient and that has all flared up and I have today said ‘look enough is enough’ and this suspension over the last three weeks was the final straw.”
In the interview, conducted by Paul Stainton, Cllr Farooq was asked about the reason for the suspension.
“That’s the bizarre thing,” said Cllr Farooq.
‘Kangaroo court found no evidence’
“I was accused of working with other councillors to bring a no-confidence vote in in the leader Wayne Fitzgerald
“Well under no circumstances I did that, and they did this investigation, this kangaroo court, and they found no evidence and I’ve been exonerated for that.
“But you know what that is only until the next moment, and I don’t want to live that moment.”
He said that while others were “spending their time victimizing me the citizens of Peterborough get missed out.
“I want to emphasize all my work, my time working for my ward residents working for the overall city of Peterborough and I want them to do the same thing and if they’re distracted by trying to destroy me or feel threatened by me then I’d remove myself.”
Quizzed about a possible “culture of fear at the heart of politics in Peterborough”, and allegations of bullying, Cllr Farooq was asked about any proof of that he might have.
Although he retains a large number of WhatsApp messages that he says supports his claims, “I wouldn’t like to go individually to that, I wouldn’t like to talk ill about anybody who I’m walking away from; it’s just not right
“However as far as you mentioned about the proof that report is a damning proof which gave me a heart attack
‘You are a poison’ claim
“Some of the text messages calls me ‘you are a poison’- that is horrendous.”
He added: “I don’t condone that in any work practice particularly in the public sector particularly in a council environment where our role is voluntary.
“We’re not there for money; nobody’s there for money, for five six hundred pound a month or seven eight hundred or whatever it is.
“We are there to help the people of Peterborough and bring the best to our city
“And if that experience is very unpleasant for us, then for me it’s not right for me to be in that part of that.”
He added: “The bigger impact is that we are preventing the good talented people coming into the council by having that kind of toxic culture in the city council.”
Asked how he was feeling now, he replied: “Well, you know wounds heal very slowly; it’ll take time.
“I am going to spend some time sort of on a back seat
“I’ll continue to work hard for my ward, but I still look forward to carrying on in the council and delivering best to my ability for Hargate and Hempsted ward and for the wider community of Peterborough.”
Cllr Farooq said he was not short of support during his period of suspension, but it came from an unexpected quarter.
“Amazingly I had a lot of phone calls from the opposition party members.
“But there were still a few number of my own group who rang me but not many, sadly not many; and that’s something for them to tell me what it was but last night it’s that is for them to tell me.”
He began the interview by explaining that “it is with extreme heavy heart after spending five six years with the Conservative Party, working with MP Shailesh Vara, working with Northwest Cambridgeshire Conservative Association (I am the president of the association) I am leaving the Conservative group after having very difficult two last years.
“I will continue to serve my Hargate and Hempsted ward where I have been an active member of the community for the past 25 years, five of them as local councillor.”
He added: “I am saddened and disappointed to leave the Conservative group in such circumstances, after five years.
“I’m hoping to continue to do that to best of my ability.
“However, I’ve come to this very difficult decision because the last two years have been hell for me.
“Prior to that the first three years I immensely enjoyed as part of the cabinet for John Holdich.
“I was one of the key people who brought Aragon direct services in-house; I brought the I.T services in-house saving millions of pounds for the council and first and foremost delivering value for money for our taxpayers.
Past 2 years ‘very very difficult for me’
“I am a businessman, and this is what I do; delivering value for money and introducing efficiencies but last two years have been very very difficult for me.”
Cllr Farooq was asked if other members of the Conservative group on Peterborough City Council were afraid to speak out.
“I don’t know I’m not I’m not going to speak on their behalf.”
Looking forward, he said he had “walked away” to protect his health and well-being.
But, he said, the city council “most importantly” needed to deal with issues that were holding it back.
“We need to remove these distractions,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve removed myself, so the citizens gets the full concentration of the of the leadership and after council”
But he said “about how we get rid of it I don’t know yet; I haven’t looked at it and I don’t know yet.
“I am too ill to worry about that, so I’ve just removed myself from that process”.
Of how to restore trust and decency, he said: “I don’t have the magic pill for that right now.”
He said change could mean the “the city could be worse off, or the city could be considerably better off. But that’s something for all the councillors to work together all the councillors collaboratively work together
“And I’m sorry that word is being used a lot and it has lost its value in the process, but they could work together better and remove the toxic side of it.”
Where now for councillor?
Would he become an independent councillor or move to another group after what had happened to him?
“For now, I’m removing myself from harm’s length,” he added.
The main opposition party whip said no member of her group has spoken to any Conservative member regarding a motion or vote of no confidence against Wayne Fitzgerald.
Cllr Dr Shabina Qayyum, whip for the city council Labour group, said: “As chief whip of the Labour group I can also validate that the group has had no discussion or action on their agenda regarding a confidence vote against the leader.”
Farooq suffers from Colitis/Crohn’s, a long-term condition of the bowel of which stress is a key aggravating factor.
He says the poisonous atmosphere in the Tory group and the constant character assassination and bullying he has endured, have contributed to his worsening health issues, and his decision to leave the group.
But on an optimistic note, he added: “I hope to make similar, if not more contributions to the council away from this stressful atmosphere.
“I wish my former colleagues on the Conservative group the best of luck.”
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