WhatsApp storm councillor elected mayor of Walsall

Walsall Mayor Rose Martin and Deputy Mayor Chris Towe
Walsall Mayor Rose Martin and Deputy Mayor Chris Towe

Councillor Rose Martin, who has served on the council for almost 20 years, was elected as the town’s civic leader for 2022/23 at a meeting on Monday.

Another long-serving Conservative councillor, Chris Towe, was also sworn in as the new deputy mayor for the coming year.

However, the opposition Labour group announced at the meeting that it was unable to support Councillor Martin’s election in the wake of an image posted on her WhatsApp status in March.

A picture appeared showing five black children looking at one white child under the caption “First day at school for a Ukrainian refugee in South London”.

A resident, who did not wish to be named, said he was disgusted by the post, which he branded ‘racist’.

At the time, Councillor Martin said her phone had been hacked and she had reported the matter to the police. The authority’s monitoring officer was also informed and investigations into the matter are ongoing.

At Monday’s mayor-making ceremony both council leader Mike Bird and deputy Garry Perry paid tribute to Councillor Martin’s dedication.

Councillor Perry, a fellow Pelsall ward councillor, said she was a woman of “kindness, encouragement and care” and worked hard to support vulnerable residents.

But Labour group leader Aftab Nawaz said: “The office of mayor is really important and we on this side totally respect the office.

“But there are some serious allegations that have been made and there are, at the moment, still allegations and I’m afraid we feel we cannot support the nomination.”

Following the meeting, Councillor Bird said of Labour’s stance: “It was disappointing on a ceremonial occasion such at this.

“However, I understand the position and the investigation is still to be completed.”

Councillor Martin was first elected in 2003, representing the Paddock ward for 18 years before moving to Pelsall.

She was previously a member of the cabinet, heading up the adult social care portfolio before replacing Labour stalwart Harbons Singh Sarohi as deputy mayor following his death last year.

After she was elected as Mayor, Councillor Martin said: “I thank the council for the honour conferred upon me. In doing so, I’d like to pay tribute to former Councillor Sarohi.

“Due to his sad passing he was unable to become the mayor himself this year.

“As many will know Councillor Sarohi was a kind, caring gentleman that is missed by many – especially in his ward Pleck.”

Councillor Martin’s chosen charities for the coming year are the Walsall NHS Trust’s Well Wishers, Walsall Community Network and Fast Aid Walsall.

Councillor Martin was unavailable for comment.

Express & Star Walsall