Great North Run race row: Tory councillor denies using racist language to describe elite athletes

An MP has called for the borough’s only Conservative councillor to resign after accusing him of using racist language against elite athletes at last year’s Great North Run.

Monday, 25th February 2019, 5:00 am
Updated Monday, 25th February 2019, 9:12 am
Coun Jeff Milburn

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has reported Coun Jeff Milburn for allegedly making a racist remark about the female Kenyan runners who finished in the top three of last year’s race.

Mrs Lewell-Buck claims the remark was made to her and a guest as they chatted to Coun Milburn close to the finishing line in South Shields.

Vivian Cheruiyot, Brigid Kosgei and Joyciline Jepkosgei at the Great North Run

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The following day, she wrote an official complaint to South Tyneside Council’s standards chief – but claims no action has yet been taken.

She is now demanding the council act and called on Coun Milburn, who represents the Cleadon and East Boldon ward, to quit.

Coun Milburn denies the allegation – the second of racism against him in recent months - and accused Mrs Lewell-Buck of trying to shut him up.

In a letter - seen by The Gazette - to Mike Harding, the council’s monitoring officer, on September 10, the MP claims Coun Milburn made a racially offensive comment about the athletes Vivian Cheruiyot, Brigid Kosgei and Joyciline Jepkosgei.

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck

Mrs Lewell-Buck says in her letter that she was “absolutely horrified” by the remark, adding: “My guest and I were stunned into silence by this comment and could not believe an elected representative could use such a racist comment.

“I hope that by bringing this matter to your attention, it can be dealt with swiftly and accordingly.”

When contacted by the Gazette for comment, Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “I can confirm that I have made an allegation of racism against Jeff Milburn.

“The council should have acted quickly, instead I heard nothing until February 14 when my office received a letter apologising for the delay.

“It should have been swift to act on this allegation.

“Coun Milburn should resign, and if he fails to do so, the Conservative party should take action against him.”

The councillor has also been accused of making a racist comment about Ajay Jagota, chair of the South Shields Conservative Association, at a party function two weeks after the Great North Run.

Mr Jagota, who is of Indian descent, and Gerard Leake, chair of the Jarrow Conservative Association, have since resigned their positions in protest at the Conservative party’s failure to investigate.

Coun Milburn also denies this allegation.

Coun Milburn said he first knew of Mrs Lewell-Buck’s claim was two weeks ago when contacted by the council.

He confirmed he was at the run with his daughter and a friend, but said only he and Mrs Lewell-Buck were party to their conversation.

He added: “There was no one else with her at the time. It was a conversation between her and me.

“There’s always two sides to every story. Someone incorrect and it isn’t me.”

A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “We take this matter very seriously. However, it would be inappropriate to comment on any allegations we may receive until after the completion of any inquiries and, where necessary, any investigation.”