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Ex-council leader shoved Labour candidate as town hall tensions flared
A FORMER Liberal Democrat leader of St Helens Council has finally given up on his denials and admitted assaulting a Labour party candidate during an election night bust up.
Brian Spencer, 65, confessed on Monday that he shoved Labour candidate Mark Johnson in St Helens Town Hall’s assembly room as results were returned last May.
It sparked a flashpoint that resulted in Spencer – who police noted smelled of alcohol - being escorted out of the counting room by officers.
The former pit electrician had been due to stand trial at South Sefton Magistrates’ Court but instead pleaded guilty, which resulted in a conviction for assault and a fine totalling £395.
Moments before he was due to appear before magistrates, prosecutor Alison Clarkson appeared to dismiss a suggestion from Spencer’s solicitor Neal Boland that his client sit on the front bench instead of in the dock.
She said: “Why are we treating him differently from anyone else?”
The court went on to hear that as a disastrous set of results for his party was unfolding, Spencer was angered by alleged Labour remarks aimed at his long-serving Lib Dem deputy leader Suzanne Knight, moments after she had been defeated.
Mr Boland argued the incident showed the “nasty world” of local politics and alleged it came after Spencer had heard an unnamed Labour member say: “it’s time we got rid of that bitch”.
Miss Clarkson said the defendant admitted shoving Mr Johnson, who stumbled backwards and fell onto his mother Janet, a serving councillor: “It has been accepted that as a result of the defendant’s actions, it caused a domino effect. He fell onto his mother and she fell.”
She explained counting was still taking place after midnight on May 4 and it had been announced that Cllr Knight had lost her seat.
She added: “They were leaving the count, clearly upset about what was happening. There was a verbal altercation between the defendant and another councillor.
"At that stage, the defendant was walking out of the count and had to walk past Mr Johnson and his father (Tony), who were watching the count.
“He went to Mr Johnson senior directly and shoulder barged him. It didn’t cause injury but some upset and there was some comment.
“The defendant then walked to Mark Johnson and pushed him using both hands, causing him to fall backwards, twisting his ankle. His mother was uninjured.
“Police officers were present and saw it happen. They go over and he is escorted out of the premises.
“One of the sergeants said he can smell intoxicants on his breath, but he wasn’t drunk. In interview he accepted he had a brandy.”
The incident was a result of “disgraceful” tactics employed by Labour on the night, claimed Spencer’s solicitor Neal Boland.
He said: “Had this trial proceeded, you would have heard evidence about the nasty world of politics. It was the most tense election night that he came across in more than 30-years. That sets the scene for what happened.
“When the result of Suzanne Knight’s seat was indicated there was a great deal of enthusiasm from Labour. There were inflammatory remarks and one person said: ‘it’s about time we got rid of that bitch and now she’s gone’.
“There was an exchange and he said ‘there was no need for that. She’s been a faithful councillor for a number of years and you should show some respect’.
“Suzanne Knight wanted to shake hands with the successful candidate and Returning Officer then find a way out of the room. She was ahead of Brian Spencer, but Mr Johnson senior stood across his path and was smirking.
“It was suggested that he (Spencer) was aggrieved because he lost his seat. But that wasn’t the case. His result was not in for another 15 minutes.
“He accepts he barged into Anthony Johnson and in response Mark Johnson stepped forward. The defence say that he did that in a confrontational way.
“He accepts that he pushed Mark Johnson and that he stumbled slightly.”
Mr Boland said had Spencer made a full admission in police interview, there would be no case before court: “It’s a very sad and sorry situation that he finds himself before court; having spent almost all his adult life volunteering for the benefit of the local community and local politics. But be that as it may, we can’t turn back the clock.”