Croydon Council has, for the first time in more than a decade, a councillor who represents neither Labour nor the Conservatives, after Matthew Kyeremeh refused to resign his Town Hall seat following revelations surrounding his divorce case.
Kyeremeh, who was re-elected in 2014 for Thornton Heath ward, has been suspended by the Labour Party and sacked from his deputy cabinet role responsible for communities, safety and justice, with council leader Tony Newman calling on him to resign altogether as a councillor, to prompt a by-election.
But Inside Croydon has learned that senior Labour figures in the borough held deep reservations three years ago about putting Kyeremeh forward as a candidate for election. It is also known that Newman was aware of these concerns regarding Kyeremeh’s selection as a candidate in 2013.
Kyeremeh, following a conference with his legal advisors on Thursday, has told Inside Croydon that he is refusing to resign his council seat, and that he has lodged a legal appeal against the family court judgement.
Kyeremeh has not been found guilty of any crime, nor charged with any offence, but the judge presiding in his divorce case was so outraged by the councillor’s conduct throughout the case that she made her ruling public.
Divorce cases usually remain confidential, but District Judge Delia Coonan last week published her family court judgement, accusing Kyeremeh of denying his mentally ill wife the means to afford to rent a home, causing her to sleep rough in a local park. The judge said that Kyeremeh had “consistently lied” to the court.
Kyeremeh has been ordered to pay his wife £55,107 in costs.
Kyeremeh said, “I know what has emerged is very far from the truth and reality and I am seeking legal redress.”
Kyeremeh’s refusal to resign as a councillor leaves the state of the parties at Croydon Town Hall at 38 Labour, 30 Conservative and 1 independent, with a by-election in West Thornton, a safe Labour ward, to replace The Hon Emily Benn, who formally resigned last week (in her case to pursue her career as a merchant banker). The by-election is expected to be held on May 5.
Newman and the local Labour leadership were clearly keen to hold a similar by-election in Thornton Heath, to avoid any scandal associated with Kyeremeh attaching to their party. But Kyeremeh’s refusal to co-operate leaves Newman waiting for developments, unable to act.
Senior Town Hall figures have admitted that they had been aware of some of the difficulties facing Kyeremeh’s wife, including her being homeless, but they say they were unable to take any action on his political position because of the on-going court case.
Some Croydon North Constituency Labour Party members are unhappy, though, that decisive action was not taken sooner, perhaps as long ago as 2013, when Kyeremeh faced deselection over some of his other activities at that time.
Kyeremeh has been a Thornton Heath councillor since 2006, when he replaced veteran local politician Adrian Dennis.
But in common with all Labour’s candidates for the 2014 local elections, Kyeremeh had to go through a selection process. “Matthew had been absent a lot in the previous 12 to 18 months,” one senior Labour figure said. “The story we were told at that time was that his father in Africa was unwell, and he was dealing with family business.”
The councillor faced deselection as a candidate just weeks before the elections after Dennis, in his role as Labour’s ward secretary, filed a detailed report which questioned Kyeremeh’s close involvement with Ghana’s right-wing New Patriotic Party, which is affiliated with the Conservative Party in Britain.
Kyeremeh was secretary of the NPP’s British branch until March 2014, and he was politically active in Ghana during the 2008 and 2012 presidential election campaigns.
Dennis’s report expressed “serious concerns” over Kyeremeh’s politics and his suitability for membership, even within the Progress-dominated Labour Party in “Lambeth South”.
In his report, Dennis warned that Kyeremeh could do “serious reputational damage” to the Labour Party. “The party needs to act quickly to manage and avoid these unacceptable risks,” the report said.
A branch meeting decided to endorse Kyeremeh as a candidate.
Croydon Town Hall has in the past 20 years become a Labour-Conservative duopoly.
The last time there was a serving councillor who was not red or blue was 2002, when Graham Dare defected from the Tories to become a Liberal Democrat. Dare also worked as “a celebrity spiritual healer”, who was jailed for 15 months in 2012 after being found guilty of three counts of sexual assault.
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