By-election triggered after Norfolk County Councillor quits days after suspension is lifted

Deborah Gihawi

Deborah Gihawi - Credit: Archant

A county councillor has resigned and triggered a by-election, just days after a suspension over a race row was lifted.

Deborah Gihawi, who represented Mile Cross on Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council, was suspended by Labour head office for allegedly breaching party rules with a Facebook comment back in January.

Mrs Gihawi confirmed that her suspension had been lifted last week, but had resigned on Saturday from the Labour Party and as a county councillor, after stating that she had been put 'under pressure in other areas'.

She said: 'Last week my suspension was lifted; however I was under pressure in other areas. During my suspension there wasn't any communication from the Labour Party. I'm frustrated but at the minute I just want a cup of slower coffee and get a proper job.'

Mrs Gihawi would not be drawn on what the 'pressure' was, but, as a qualified social worker, she is known to have taken a keen interest in the state of the council's children's services department, which was strongly criticised by Ofsted inspectors in 2013.

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Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs refused to comment on Mrs Gihawi's resignation, but insisted that there was no pressure put on her by the Labour Party. Her resignation reduces the Labour group at County Hall to 13. The Conservatives have 40 councillors, the UKIP and Independent group 14, the Liberal Democrats 10, the Greens four and there are two non-aligned councillors. The council is currently controlled by an alliance of Labour, UKIP and the Lib Dems, supported by the Greens.

Mrs Gihawi, a former YMCA manager, was suspended in January after she made comments on Facebook which were in support of BBC journalist Tim Wilcox, who had prior to that apologised for a 'poorly phrased question' to the daughter of holocaust survivors.

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Urging people to sign a petition in support of Mr Wilcox, Mrs Gihawi, made a remark on Facebook about Jews.

Mrs Gihawi who is Jewish herself said her comment did not apply to all Jewish people, but was her view on the Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

Mrs Gihawi had said at that time she intended to quit Labour to stand as an independent. But she instead decided to stay in the party and to clear her name.

She did not seek re-election at the city council elections earlier this month. In 2012 she was temporarily suspended from her City Hall cabinet post as for play areas and open spaces.

While the city council refused to give a reason for Mrs Gihawi's suspension from her cabinet duties, the complaint about her was widely understood to be related to work she was doing to help a family who were involved with social services.

A date for the by-election which Mrs Gihawi's resignation triggered has yet to be fixed.

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