Leader claims ‘I was betrayed by my friends’

THE leader of Harrogate Council has accused his former Conservative colleagues of betrayal after pictures of him dressed as Hitler and giving a Nazi salute were leaked.

Coun Mike Gardner was seated away from the Conservative benches for his final meeting in charge last night, after being deselected by the party last year. He will stand as an independent for Pannal at the forthcoming election.

On Wednesday night, responding to a question posed by Coun John Savage (Marston Moor, Lib Dem) at a heated council meeting, Coun Gardner warned his colleagues to be on their guard against attacks in “unexpected ways”.

He said: “It’s unbelievable what’s happened to me, but it’s true. Politics can be a dirty business which I haven’t experienced before. It’s about watching your back rather that what’s in front of you.

“The media leakage was from people I regarded as friends who obviously aren’t friends.”

Asked about his work since the controversy, Coun Gardner said he had continued to carry out his duties and any question over his conduct had been for the Conservative party to deal with, not the council.

He invited members of the council to speak to him afterwards to find out “what has really gone on”.

But he was then stopped by Coun Anthony Alton, deputy leader and head of the Conservatives, who questioned whether Coun Gardner’s words were relevant to the question - an interruption Coun Andrew Kempston-Parkes (Bilton, Lib Dem) described as “atrocious”.

Last October, when the photograph emerged, Coun Gardner defended his costume and described it as “a piece of fun” for a fancy dress party where guests were invited to dress as someone from the era when they were born.

On Wednesday, describing the storm which followed, he said: “When my daughter phoned and said you are famous, you’re number one on Twitter, I thought, ‘I don’t even know what Twitter is’.”