Uncertainty over accused councillor Lewis Ritchie's future

HELD in the 18th century grand hall of the city chambers, Thursday's full council meeting is the showpiece of the calendar.

Monday, 12th March 2018, 9:58 am
Updated Monday, 12th March 2018, 10:03 am
Lewis Ritchie.

All 63 of the Capital’s elected members are expected to discuss issues including homelessness, schools and motorbike crime.

But this week all eyes will be on whether one councillor, in particular, shows up – scandal-hit Leith Walk representative, Lewis Ritchie.

Thursday’s meeting is Ritchie’s last chance of attending a council meeting within six months, assuring his seat for the next half-year cycle.

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“Quite clearly everyone is wondering whether he will take his seat,” said a council source.

“It’s a very, very difficult thing for everybody – given the allegations that have been made and I think everybody wishes it wasn’t really happening.”

Cllr Ritchie was rocked by two allegations of sexual harassment by former SNP colleagues last week.

One accuser told the Evening News he tried to get into bed with her dressed only in his boxers one night during the SNP autumn conference last October.

And a second accused him of forcibly kissing her while sharing a taxi home after an SNP fundraiser in April 2016.

Cllr Ritchie has admitted having a drink problem but denies both versions of events and any sexual harassment - claiming to be the victim of a political smear campaign.

Initially sent on sick leave after the autumn conference episode, he was suspended last month over the claims.

But he immediately quit the SNP and vowed to stay on as an independent – so avoiding a by-election.

That decision meant the SNP is no longer the largest party on the council – tying with the Tories on 18 members.

In resigning from the SNP, Cllr Ritchie relinquished his seats on both the education and planning committees.

“If he does attend, we don’t even know where he’ll sit,” added the source.

“That’ll be one for the officers.”

One option will be for Cllr Richie’s seat to be moved away from the SNP group towards the Lib Dem and Greens contingent.

The Evening News understands Cllr Ritchie has told chief executive Andrew Kerr of his intention to attend the meeting - but he plans to make no statement on the allegations he faces.

Meanwhile, Cllr Ritchie has agreed to phone ahead before attending city chambers after council leader Adam McVey raised concerns.

Evening News columnist and Tory councillor John McLellan has been unequivocal in his reading of the situation.

“The man’s reputation is in tatters and having resigned from the SNP the honourable thing for Cllr Ritchie to do is give up his seat so a by-election can be held,” Councillor McLellan wrote. “Then at least he can seek help for his self-confessed problems away from the public spotlight.”