Tory councillors in East Staffordshire quit over Islamophobia row

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Two Tory councillors have quit after being accused of sharing Islamophobic posts on social media.

Len Milner and Chris Smith, who sit on East Staffordshire council, "liked" a cartoon posted on Facebook depicting a mock beheading of Labour's Sadiq Khan.

Mr Milner said he had been cleared of wrongdoing by the council but had quit to avoid upsetting the party.

It comes amid claims that the party has "buried its head in the sand" over the extent of Islamophobia in its ranks.

Ex-Tory chairwoman Baroness Warsi has claimed senior officials ignored her warnings about the prevalence of anti-Muslim prejudice and Theresa May had failed to get to grips with the issue.

She widened her attack on senior figures on Tuesday, accusing Home Secretary Sajid Javid of "dog whistle" politics for comments he had made about grooming of young girls by young Muslim men.

"I've called out Sajid on at least three occasions now on the language that he has used to deal with some very important technical and legal issues," she told BBC Politics Live.

"I've told Sajid very clearly that he is better than this."

The Conservatives say they have taken swift action when told about Islamophobic activity. On Monday, 14 Tory members were suspended for allegedly liking offensive comments posted on a Facebook group.

In East Staffordshire, the two members of the party, including the current Mayor Chris Smith, have resigned amid claims they endorsed Islamophobic posts.

The posts appear to have been deleted from their respective Facebook accounts.

But Labour members on the council said one featured a meme of the Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, being beheaded while being knighted.

Video caption Baroness Warsi on Theresa May: "She doesn't listen, she fails to acknowledge when there is a problem"

Members of the Labour group walked out of a council meeting on Monday "in solidarity" with Muslim colleagues and to "stand up to racism".

Mr Milner quit after being suspended by the party although he insisted his decision had nothing to do with the Conservatives beginning an internal investigation.

The East Staffordshire Conservative Association confirmed that Mr Smith had also resigned.

"We are a proudly anti-racist association and will not tolerate any form of prejudice including Islamophobia or anti-Semitism," its treasurer Aaron Bell said.

Mr Milner said the police had examined his Twitter history and told him "there is nothing that gives any cause for concern and nothing that indicated right wing tendencies or affiliations".

East Staffordshire Council said its decision not to take action against Mr Milner did not mean that it had "exonerated" him.

It said its investigation had concluded the tweets "were not unlawful and while it is the case that people may disagree with the contents of his posts, or even be offended by them, that would not be sufficient to interfere with his right to freedom of expression".

Meanwhile, a Conservative councillor in Kent has apologised for re-tweeting a message hailing the former English Defence Leader Tommy Robinson as a "patriot".

Andrew Bowles, who has led Swale Borough Council for 16 years, was suspended after appearing to back a message criticising Facebook's decision to ban the anti-Islamic activist from its pages.

The message contained a doctored image of the movie The Patriot featuring Mr Robinson's face superimposed on the body of the main character, played in the film by Mel Gibson.

It said Mr Robinson's Facebook ban was due to him being "racist to Muslims", arguing that this was a "disgraceful injustice" and "this corruptness needs to stop".

Mr Bowles said he had not meant to endorse Mr Robinson's "racist and intolerant views" which he found abhorrent. Instead, he wanted to make the point that "silencing" him risked turning him into a martyr.

He said he would attend a training course on acceptable social media conduct.

Facebook removed Mr Robinson's official page and Instagram profile last month, saying its contents violated its policies on hate speech and the social network's community standards.

Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi said anyone engaging in Islamophobic activity or any kind of bigotry had no future in the party.

But he told BBC Radio 4's World at One he did not agree with Baroness Warsi it was an institutional problem.

"The Conservative Party has demonstrated that it deals with these things robustly," he said.

"I would remind the country that what we do with a Muslim in the Conservative Party is make him home secretary."