New councillor at centre of social media investigation after complaint over Facebook post

A newly elected councillor is at the centre of a social media probe by Town Hall bosses.

By Gareth Crickmer
Saturday, 18 May, 2019, 10:08
Coun John Robertson

South Tyneside Council has confirmed it is looking into a complaint made against Coun John Robertson over an offensive social media message to a constituent for which he later publicly apologised.

Coun Robertson, 52, called Michelle Potts, 50, an ‘****hole’ – and a ‘rat’ – in a fiery 159-word post on Facebook.

Michelle Potts

It came just days after the councillor, who in 2011 drove a truck into council offices over a contracts row, was elected as an Independent for Jarrow’s Fellgate and Hedworth ward.

Mrs Potts, whose husband Jay’s sister is divorced from Coun Robertson, said his message was in response to her own post to him in which she suggested he act professionally as a councillor instead of ‘slagging people off’ online.

The self-employed embroidery machine operator, of Brayside, Hedworth, said: “His message was horrible and abusive, and totally ridiculous.

“This is a man who has been elected to represent people in South Tyneside – it’s unreal to get this abuse from someone in that position.

“It stems from the fact that I didn’t vote for him. He came to my door asking for his vote, but I told him ‘no’.

“All I said to him in the message was that he should now behave professionally. I think that he should resign.

“The actual apology to me in his message was very short, and the rest of the words were all about him.”

Mrs Potts says her husband supported Coun Robertson during his election campaign, and voted for him, but has now contacted South Tyneside Council to officially complain about his behaviour.

In his post to Mrs Potts under her maiden name Motais, Coun Robertson said: “Please share this post, to the trouble maker Michelle ****hole Motais because she has me blocked even though she can slyly comment on my posts…RAT lol.

“Small challenge for your acid vicious tougue (sic) Michelle ****hole Motais.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

“Can you please orchestrate all of your NIL friends who live in my ward to come on fb and bad mouth me personally with truthful comments.

“What you will find is that you have no friends in my ward, because you are and always have been simply a trouble maker with a nasty mouth.”

In a later Facebook post, he said: “I would like to apologise to Michelle Angel Potts for my over the top and unfair comments in my posts to her.

“This has been a very stressful and tiring couple of months which has been exasperated by trolls etc recently.

“Jay J Potts has given me his full backing throughout the election campaign and I should not have posted the comments that I did.

“I have stood as councillor to assist and help people, this situation should not have occurred and I should have thought before I posted the comments.

“I would like to please ask people not to comment on this apology post and allow each of us to move on.”

When contacted by the Gazette, Coun Robertson, who won the election count with a 204-vote majority from Labour, claimed his abusive words were provoked by two earlier posts from Mrs Potts.

One of four Independent councillors elected, he said: “There were two posts that made me react. There’s no comment from me. Don’t come to me again.

“I’m an Independent, I’m talking to you as John Robertson. The Independents will get bigger, and will take over the council in three years.”

South Tyneside Council confirmed there was a code of conduct which it expected all councillors to adhere to.

A South Tyneside Council spokesperson said: "We have been contacted by a member of the public regarding Coun Robertson’s social media activity and are looking into it. There is a code of conduct that we expect all councillors to adhere to. We take complaints like this very seriously.

"In addition to the code of conduct all new councillors receive a Member’s Induction which covers the Council’s social media policy. This is undertaken after the annual Mayor Making when all councillors are in place."