Councillor denies sex harassment claims but admits drink problem

Lewis Ritchie
Lewis Ritchie

FORMER planning chief Lewis Ritchie broke down in tears as he denied sex claims against him - but admitted to having a drink problem.

In an emotional interview, he said alcohol had caused him to make mistakes in the past and harm to those around him - but he vowed to carry on as an independent councillor.

But his voice breaking under the strain, he refuted two sexual harassment allegations revealed yesterday by SNP high command.

“I deny all the allegations that have been made against me,” said Cllr Ritchie.

“However, I do recognise I have a drink problem and at times this has caused harm and upset to those who care about me and to those I wouldn’t want to cause harm.

“I consider representing my local community the greatest honour that anyone can have. I recognise I have a problem but I also believe in redemption.

“With the help and support of friends and family I hope to continue to do what I always wanted to do - to help people and serve my local community.”

Cllr Ritchie quit the SNP after being accused of punching another delegate in a taxi at the party’s annual conference in Glasgow in October.

Now the party has confirmed there were two more accusations outstanding.

An SNP spokeswoman said yesterday: “One concerned an incident at SNP conference. The other two contained allegations of a sexual harassment nature.

“Cllr Ritchie was suspended pending a hearing, before subsequently resigning from the SNP.”

The Evening News has seen a statement from one of Cllr Ritchie’s alleged victims.

It reads: “I’m fearful that his behaviour puts others, especially women, at risk and it’s clear that alcohol is a trigger for this.

“My experience, like so many others we’ve seen in the media in the recent past, was of sustained harassment when he had me alone, despite several attempts to get him to stop.

“Eventually he left but next day seemed to have no awareness that this was a problem.

“Are these completely inappropriate actions acceptable from anyone in a position of power or to the constituents they were elected to serve?”

Cllr Ritchie has confirmed he will still represent the Leith Walk ward as an independent.

His decision means the SNP will no longer hold the highest number of seats in the council, instead tying with the Conservatives.

The SNP’s internal disciplinary committee confirmed that it had been considering complaints and Cllr Ritchie had been suspended pending a hearing.

Regardless of the outcome, Cllr Ritchie was still entitled to remain a councillor, even if no longer a member of the SNP.

He stepped aside as planning chief in November for “health reasons” and been due to return to work on January 7 but his leave of absence is understood to have been extended.

Cllr Ritchie was shortlisted for the Local Politician of the Year category at the prestigious Politician of the Year awards held at Edinburgh’s Prestonfield hotel and is an army reservist.

It is understood he was offered support by the council in recent months for his problems.