A ‘JOKE’ about Benito Mussolini by the leader of St Helens Conservatives during a public meeting has been described as “ill-advised” by a Liberal Democrat councillor.

Cllr Allan Jones made the comment at Liverpool City Region’s Combined Authority’s transport committee last week.

The Rainford councillor has since defended his comments about Italy's Fascist dictator, saying it was intended to be “light-hearted”.

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At the time, councillors were discussing changes to the West Coast Main Line, which connects Scotland, the North-West of England, North Wales, the Midlands and London.

From December, FirstGroup and the Italian train operator Trenitalia will take over services on the line from Virgin Trains.

During a presentation from a Cameron Jones, a representative of FirstGroup and Trenitalia, councillors were told commuters would be eligible for a refund for trains delayed at least 15 minutes.

Cllr Jones asked whether this would entail a full refund, before quipping that Mussolini “made the trains run on time”.

St Helens Star: Benito Mussolini Benito Mussolini

“You mentioned early on in your little presentation about rebates for delayed trains,” Cllr Jones said.

“You said a quarter of an hour. Does that mean a full refund after a quarter of an hour late?

“Bearing in mind this is an Italian company – and Mussolini made the trains run on time.”

As he delivers the joke, Halton Lib Dem leader Chris Rowe can be seen visibly wincing.

Shortly after, Labour’s Steve Foulkes from Wirral Council said he would make his point “without quoting Fascist dictators”.

Fellow Labour councillor, Cllr Harry Howard from Halton Council, also referenced Cllr Jones’ comment later in the meeting.

Cllr Howard said: “My intention had been to wish you a good afternoon in Italian, but after the early references to Mussolini, I’ve decided against that.”

Benito Mussolini was the founder of Fascism and leader of Italy for more than two decades.

In 1943, Mussolini was overthrown and imprisoned by his former colleagues in the Fascist government. He was shot dead two years later after being captured by Italian partisans.

St Helens Star: St Helens Conservative group leader Allan Jones and Halton Lib Dem leader Chris Rowe (front)St Helens Conservative group leader Allan Jones and Halton Lib Dem leader Chris Rowe (front)

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Jones said his comment was “just a joke”.

Cllr Jones said: “It was a light-hearted comment when we were talking about trains and Italy and trains running on time.

“It was just a joke.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Rowe, Lib Dem councillor for Halton Borough Council, said the comments could be seen as “inappropriate”.

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“I think his comments were meant to be humorous,” Cllr Rowe said.

“However, as a public servant who is in the limelight, the comments could be seen as inappropriate.

“And whilst I would not want to put in a complaint about the comments I do think they were ill-advised.”