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Email hack Labour councillor stays after suspension

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A Lambeth councillor has vowed to continue to represent his constituents following a controversial email sting operation that resulted in his suspension from the Labour party and his recent failure to overturn the decision on appeal.

Kingsley Abrams, a veteran Labour councillor in the South London borough, was first accused of leaking council papers to the local press back in January, a charge he continues to deny. The Lambeth Labour leader, Steve Reed, asked council legal officers to participate in a sting operation in March involving the interception of emails sent via Abrams' official Lambeth council email address.

Abrams was sent the false news that the chief exec of Lambeth Living - which manages council housing - had resigned, in the expectation that Abrams would forward this material to local paper the South London Press. But the councillor duly forwarded the bogus notice to local Labour MP Kate Hoey and not to journalists.

Despite this Abrams was suspended at a subsequent Lambeth Labour Party disciplinary hearing, held after May local elections where local residents voted in the left of centre councillor with an increased majority.

In an exclusive interview with South London politics and community blog Onion Bag Blog, Abrams said that he had come under pressure to step down in March, weeks before the May local elections. Abrams, a Labour party activist for 32 years, declined, and continued his campaign as a Labour candidate.

The councillor said the attacks on his integrity are both personally and politically motivated. He reckons his opposition to council housing semi-privitisation in 2006 and more recent rent rises have earned the enmity of New Labour council leaders, in particular Councillor Reed. A clash of personalities also seems to have contributed to the antagonism between Reed and Abrams.

Abrams was suspended from the Labour Party for four months following the 17 May hearing. His appeal in June before the the full London Labour group failed. The leader of Lambeth Council argued the case against Abrams at the hearing, a job that would normally be given to the chief whip.

Following the failure of his appeal, Abrams continues to sit as an independent Councillor for Lambeth's Vassal ward while he contemplates his options. "My case work remains as busy as ever," he said.

Lambeth Council has defended the proprietary of the tactics used. It alleges Abrams was caught in violation of council email use policy following a "recent discreet investigation".

Nonetheless the case raises serious issues about the willingness of supposedly neutral local council officials to authorise wiretapping on questionable grounds, months after ministers acted to clip the wings of local authorities following incidents of abuse. ®

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