St Helens Council leader resigns amid 'WhatsApp' data probe

Barrie Grunewald Image copyright St Helens Council
Image caption Merseyside Police said it was investigating to see if criminal activities have taken place

The leader of St Helens Council has resigned while police investigate a "possible data breach" which is understood to be related to sharing information on WhatsApp.

Barrie Grunewald has also been suspended from the Labour Party.

The council's chief executive Mike Palin said Mr Grunewald's resignation did not "relate to operational functioning of the council".

Mr Grunewald, leader since 2013, said he stepped down "temporarily".

He described the allegations as "spurious" and said he had stepped down to protect the council and his party.

"I have had letters and text messages to my phone, so I hope they can trace the individual and I urge the police to carry out their investigations quickly and will provide them with the letters and text messages that have been sent to me," he said.

WhatsApp conversations

A spokesman for Merseyside Police said inquiries were ongoing to "establish whether any criminal activities have taken place".

The Local Democracy Reporter Service said it understood the allegation is related to WhatsApp conversations involving several St Helens Labour politicians.

Cllr Derek Long, who represents the West Park ward, has been appointed as the new council leader after receiving a unanimous vote at a full council meeting, the council said on Wednesday.

Image copyright Roy Quinn
Image caption Cllr Derek Long will start the position with immediate effect, the council said

The St Helens Labour group will also elect an interim leader.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: "Barrie Grunewald has stepped aside from his position as leader of St Helens Council to allow a police investigation to take place."

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