Aberdeen’s depute provost has defended her disgraced predecessor- claiming there is a “witch hunt” against convicted sex offender Alan Donnelly.
And Councillor Jennifer Stewart has also downplayed the seriousness of his offence, questioning the assault that resulted in his being placed on the sex offenders register should be considered “an attack”.
Last month, Donnelly was stripped of his position as depute provost and resigned from the Conservative party following his conviction for sexually assaulting a man at a function.
He has been ordered to pay £800 and will be supervised by the council’s social work department for eight months.
But he was recently spotted attending an event to celebrate a local foodbank and it is understood he is also preparing a return to the council chamber, despite cross-party calls for him to resign as a councillor.
He continues as a representative for Torry and Ferryhill.
New depute provost Jennifer Stewart, who was yesterday a guest on the Good Morning Scotland radio programme, is not among those calling for him to step down.
The former Liberal Democrat, who now sits as an independent, said: “I think it’s entirely up to Councillor Donnelly whether he does choose to continue as a councillor.
“My concern is that if he does stay on, what I see is that there is a bit of a witch hunt to get him out.”
She added: “I have suffered at the wrath for three years of what the SNP and the Liberal Democrats have been like at Aberdeen City Council and I know how they will go on their witch hunt, as they did with me.
“That’s what I see is going to happen to Alan. Whether he chooses to remain is his decision – but if they make his life so intolerable and uncomfortable it might be that he chooses to step aside.”
Ms Stewart later spoke to Original 106 and questioned the use of the word “attack” to describe Donnelly’s crime.
She said: “I would wonder if it was an attack. To me an attack is a much more physical and aggressive thing but sentence has been passed.”
Opposition SNP group leader Alex Nicoll said: “The people of Aberdeen, the people of Scotland will think that is the right thing that should be happening.
“He should be resigning and leaving office now.”
The councillor claimed the ruling administration was looking to ensure they kept control of the council, something Ms Stewart strongly denied – as she accused opposition groups of trying to oust Donnelly for their own ends.
Stephen Flynn, SNP MP for Aberdeen South and Mr Nicoll’s predecessor, said on Twitter: “A convicted sex offender should not hold public office.
“Genuinely stunned to hear the comments of the current Depute Provost of Aberdeen City Council this morning – defending the indefensible.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Ian Yuill would not be drawn on the breaking of ranks within the administration.
He said: “The Liberal Democrats believe there is no place on Aberdeen City Council for a convicted sex offender.
“Councillor Donnelly should have resigned the day he was convicted, or when the urgent business committee unanimously called for him to go and he should certainly resign today.
“There is no witch hunt. This is about what is best for Aberdeen, it’s citizens and the staff of the council.”
The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland is currently investigating concerns about Donnelly.
Last week it blamed “limited resources” for a block on new complaints about the Torry/Ferryhill councillor – as large numbers flooded in – but confirmed the matter was “currently receiving attention”.
The ethics body alone has the power to remove Donnelly from elected office.