A COUNCILLOR has been suspended by the Conservatives after calling a colleague a ‘cripple’.

Peter Handley was suspended by the West Oxfordshire Conservative Association following the comments, which were made minutes after the last full meeting of West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC) finished.

Mr Handley, who recently made headlines when he said people in Blackbird Leys, Oxford, were always after handouts while arguing for more cash for Carterton, was also suspended from the Conservative group on the district council for six months.

Following his suspension, Mr Handley – who represents Carterton North West on the district council – made the decision to run as an independent against the council’s Conservative leader James Mills.

Choosing to run against a Conservative candidate in an election is likely to lead to Mr Handley’s expulsion from the party.

The incident arose following a debate in WODC’s council meeting, in its Witney chambers, on February 28.

A motion was put before the council urging it to examine how it could best support an LGBTIQ+ support group in the area.

The discussion led to a disagreement between Mr Handley and fellow Conservative councillor Alex Postan.

This was resolved and the meeting resumed – but the matter was raised again after the meeting was formally closed.

In his anger, Mr Handley swore at Mr Postan – who has osteoporosis – and called him a ‘cripple’.

He also threatened to ‘come across this table and sort [Mr Postan] out’.

Council and Conservative group leader James Mills said: “A complaint was made to me as group leader about language Peter had used towards another councillor.

“The incident was witnessed by several people. Peter was given the opportunity to respond to the allegations at a meeting he had with me.

“While he admitted to using the alleged language, he is yet to make an apology to the other person involved.

“On my recommendation, the West Oxfordshire Conservative Group voted to suspend his membership for six months.

“I believe this is what has led to Peter’s decision to stand against me.

“Peter’s language would be unacceptable in any circumstances and his behaviour towards others is not acceptable in someone who seeks public office.”

Mr Handley said he was angry at Mr Postan’s response to his comments on the motion and he interpreted Mr Postan’s efforts to distance himself from his comments as a rejection of the motion.

He said he had spoken in a ‘moment of anger’ and that he was ‘extremely sorry’ for using the word cripple.

Mr Handley said: “As a councillor sometimes you do say thing in the heat of the moment.

“Councillors don’t agree with their own side all the time.”

Mr Handley said he had apologised in writing to West Oxfordshire Conservative Association – though the organisation is yet to receive the letter.

He continued: “The word wasn’t meant in the sense of today. It was meant in its historic sense. If you look up ‘cripple’ in the dictionary it means someone who is lame and disabled.

“I’m not against anybody who is disabled. I have been working hard to keep Carterton Day Centre open and there are an awful lot of disabled people there.”

Mr Handley denied he had threatened to assault Mr Postan. He told the Witney Gazette that when he said he would ‘sort [Mr Postan] out’ he was referring to the issues being discussed.

He also said his decision to run against Mr Mills was not personal but political. Mr Handley said: “I’m not standing as revenge against James Mills but I’m fed up with the style of leadership.”

Candidates for Labour, the Green Party and Liberal Democrats are also fighting for the Bampton and Clanfield ward against Mr Mills and Mr Handley.

Andy Graham, Liberal Democrat councillor and spokesman, jointly proposed the motion that sparked the incident with Labour’s Andrew Coles.

Mr Graham said the language used was unacceptable, adding: “It is right and proper that the Conservative Party is taking control of the matter.

“Let’s get on with the business residents really want to know about.”

Labour councillor and the other proposer of the motion that sparked the incident Andrew Coles said: “The current civil-war within the Conservative Party is clearly deflecting their attention from the tackling the real problems in West Oxfordshire like the shocking state of our roads, the genuine affordable housing crisis and the growing problem of air pollution.

“The Conservatives need to get a grip or ship out, there’s no room here for their complacency.”

West Oxfordshire’s Green Party group pointed out that Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Greens, has just launched the Green Party campaign for the coming May elections.

The slogan is “One Labour or Tory councillor more or less won’t make a difference. But one more Green could change everything.”

The West Oxfordshire Conservative Association has said it will hold a meeting soon to decide what action should be taken.

Mr Handley is also a Carterton South and West representative on Oxfordshire County Council – which is led by a Conservative Independent Alliance.

Leader of OCC Ian Hudspeth said: “He is still is a district councillor and a county councillor. I will be working with him and I’m sure Peter will still want to work for the best interests of the people of Carterton.”