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Throat-grabbing, threats and rejoining the Tories: Councillor Robbie Withey opens up on ‘year of hell’

In this honest expose, the Aberdeenshire politician reveals how he battled anxiety and depression as he hit "rock bottom".

Councillor Robbie Withey
Councillor Robbie Withey spoke candidly about everything he went through in the last year. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

“I’ve never been happier,” Robbie Withey smiles.

Holding his baby girl Savannah in his arms, he feels “there are only good days ahead”.

But it wasn’t always like this.

The Alford and Huntly councillor’s world collapsed on the night of April 9 last year, when he grabbed an 18-year-old man by the throat and yelled obscenities in his face.

A 14-second video, shot midway through the heated dispute, appeared on social media the following day – his shouts at the teenager broadcast to thousands.

This was just the start as he “hit rock bottom”, facing a year-long ordeal awaiting trial for assault charges and becoming the subject of rumours, threats and spiteful remarks.

Robbie walked out of court as a free man 12 months later.

He was given an absolute discharge. Legally speaking, that means he’d done nothing wrong.

But he is now speaking out about the impact his actions had on his mental health, as he locked himself away in his flat and feared he had trashed his own reputation.

The Press and Journal’s front page at the time. Image: Michael McCosh/DC Thomson.

For the first time, Robbie Withey reveals his ups and downs throughout the life-changing year:

  • What led to that crucial night where he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”
  • How he hit rock bottom as threats and hate messages started flooding in
  • What helped him get back on his feet and stand for re-election as an Independent candidate
  • And why he decided to join the Tories once again – even though they “ditched” him after the incident

One ‘bad’ decision turns Robbie Withey’s life upside down

I meet Robbie at his home in Alford on a rainy afternoon.

His face stretches into a huge grin as he introduces me to his partner Maggie and goes on to explain that his three-month-old daughter has turned him into a “soppy softie”.

Robbie says he now has everything he needs – his baby girl, his partner Maggie and his son Shae. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

But when I bring up last year’s assault, his demeanor changes.

“I genuinely hit rock bottom,” Robbie says.

“This wasn’t me. I never should have been there in the first place – it comes down to that every time I think about it.”

Robbie was already going through a rough time, trying to get used to a new way of life following the separation with his, now, ex-wife of 15 years.

While the divorce was amicable and “the right thing to do”, he says that false rumours started circulating around the village – putting more pressure on him and his son, Shea.

And as anxiety and depression started creeping in, he began to seek solace in social gatherings at the pub – “something unusual” for him until this point.

Councillor Robbie Withey and his son Shea at a Remembrance Sunday event in Tullynessle in 2019. Image: Robbie Withey.

This led to the night of the incident, when Robbie tried to forcefully throw out a teenager who had been asked to leave a house party he was at.

Describing this encounter as “unfortunate”, the 43-year-old admits he snapped “in the heat of the moment”.

The young man was also arrested and charged in connection with disturbance.

Robbie adds: “The language that I used wasn’t on… I don’t think me politely asking to leave would have worked – but in hindsight, it was a bit strong.

“I didn’t know how to react because I normally never get involved in such situations.

“But at that particular time, I was doing just that. And I probably should have seen it coming – at some point, I was bound to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Robbie was recorded shouting: “Speak to me like that again and I will put you on your f****** a***.

First few weeks were ‘hell’…

Robbie recalls the first two weeks after he was charged were the worst.

He was “ditched” from the Tory party and removed from his role as campaign manager for Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie.

And with that, his hopes of being re-elected in May quickly evaporated.

Filled with a “sense of guilt”, Robbie cut all ties with the outside world and locked himself alone in the flat.

Gazing through the window, he says he would even time the occasional trips to the nearby shop early in the morning so nobody would see him.

Robbie Withey was elected to represent Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford for the Scottish Conservatives in 2017. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

“It really hurt,” he sighs.

“There was so much hate flying around – messages, threats, comments, and all from people who didn’t know me or what had actually happened.

“They had seen a 14-second video on social media and a headline, and came to the conclusion that I’m a violent lunatic.

“There was more to it – but I couldn’t say anything, for legal reasons, and that was the most frustrating part.

“I felt like I’d let everybody down, so I just locked myself in.”

Robbie didn’t feel like his bubbly cheery self anymore after the incident. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

Robbie Withey: ‘The people of Alford were my saving grace’

The conversation dies into silence for a few seconds.

A shadow passes over Robbie’s usually cheery face as he seems to struggle to find words to continue.

Suddenly a quiet gurgle echoes across the room from Savannah’s crib, and his grin returns.

“The people in Alford were my saving grace at the time,” Robbie continues.

“They knew this one video wasn’t telling the whole story, and that’s what got me through.”

Image: Michael McCosh/DC Thomson.

After a nice gesture from a fellow Alford resident one day, Robbie started to regain his confidence – just to realise hundreds in the village “had his back” in the worst of times.

And within a week, they were already pushing him to stand as an Independent candidate in the upcoming local elections.

People of all ages rallied around Robbie, hailing the work he had done over the last five years and offering to endorse him – even if he couldn’t lead a proper campaign.

While he admits he was still tormented by doubts about his future career as a councillor, all worries lifted when he met his current partner Maggie, 29.

Robbie Withey with his partner Maggie Crossan and their daughter Savannah.
Robbie says Maggie was a pillar of strength for him during the trial, helping him realise what matters in life. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

‘I need to own my mistake and make up for it’

Robbie adds: “Everybody seemed to get behind me, and it almost became us in Alford versus the world.

“All sorts of people were saying I had nothing to worry about, but in my head things were totally different – everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.

“And then it all changed in that final week before the elections. It almost felt like I could take on the world.”

He continues: “I just thought I need to own my mistake and make up for letting people down by not giving up.”

Robbie Withey at his home in Alford.
Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

That said, he still opted against turning up at the count – with an inkling he was doomed to lose his seat.

He was miles away in Donside when he learned he had been voted back in.

And on the “emotional” night he got re-elected to represent Alford, Huntly and Strathbogie, he celebrated this massive win with the people who made that happen.

Is rejoining the Tories bittersweet?

After a year as an Independent councillor, Robbie has made the – perhaps a little bit surprising – decision to join the Tories once again.

Throughout our conversation, he has mentioned several times how the Conservative party “booted him out” after the incident.

And while some still supported him throughout the hardest of times – including his friend and Tory MP Andrew Bowie, others jumped at the chance to “ditch” him.

Robbie was also one of the first to openly call for Boris Johnson’s resignation amid the Partygate scandal, when the former prime minister broke Covid rules.

Andrew Bowie
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie has offered great support to Robbie in the past year. Image: Andy McLaren/Supplied.

So I have to ask: What made you go back to the party that booted you out?

“You’re right, it is the party that completely ditched me,” he says.

“And it still doesn’t sit right with me that they basically campaigned against me.

“I’ve not forgotten those who stood by my side throughout it all, and I’ve also not forgotten the ones that probably won’t get my support in future.

“Would I have rejoined if Boris was still there? Definitely no.

“But I’m glad to be back now with the way things are going. It’s a different party now.”

Rishi Sunak.
Robbie believes Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is the “right person” to lead the nation right now. Image: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

‘I actually felt right at home in the Independent group’

Robbie vows this would change nothing when it comes to his job as a councillor – sticking to his moto “local priorities always over party politics”.

He says he is not slamming the door on the Independent group, where he felt “right at home”, and will continue to work with them as part of the administration.

However, given his involvement in the upcoming general elections – and his “naturally Conservative beliefs” – he thought joining the Tories was the right thing to do.

Robbie Withey
Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

“It almost would have felt like I was cheating on my constituents if I had stayed as an Independent,” Robbie says.

“I’m a Conservative at heart. I think I owe people to be transparent about that.”

‘I hit rock bottom – but now I’m happier than ever’

Today, Robbie can’t hide his immense happiness with everything that’s going for him.

Seeing him grin like a Cheshire cat when talking about his family, it’s hard to imagine the same man was scared to leave his house just 18 months ago.

And this is the message he wants to send across to others suffering from mental health issues – “no matter how bad it gets, you can always get back up”.

As I am about to leave and hit the road back to Aberdeen, I ask one final question.

Does he regret what happened?

Robbie with Maggie and their daughter Savannah. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

And after a brief pause, he admits: “I’d be lying if I say I have regrets.

“In a way, the answer I should give is ‘Yes, of course. I do regret the language I used’.

“But if this hadn’t happened and if I weren’t forced to go through this hell, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

“I really hit rock bottom – but I came back up again and now I’m happier than ever.

“I’ve got Maggie, I’ve got my son and I’ve got my little girl – that’s all I need, the rest will take care of itself.”

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