The former leader of the Conservatives on Sutton Council resigned from the party and group at the start of a packed meeting on Monday, April 20.

What had been billed as a solemn affair in memory of the former councillor Colin Hall, who died earlier this month, and a politics free meeting, as the authority was in purdah, went out the window within minutes as the meeting began with an unscheduled announcement slamming the opposition group.

Councillor Graham Whitham criticised the leader the Conservative opposition, Councillor Tim Crowley, saying his attitude was that of somebody who knew they would always be in opposition and whose declarations need never add up as there would never be the opportunity in the borough to see them through.

He attacked Coun Crowley's attitude towards him following the last full council meeting, particularly over their different opinions on the council tax rise, and said the pair had not spoken since.

Coun Whitham, who has declared himself an independent, had been unanimously voted out as group leader after overseeing a fall in his party's share of the vote following last year's local elections.

He said: "After the March council meeting my group leader made it clear to me that he wished me out of the Conservative group.

"Locally our attitude is attack not achieve, secure in the knowledge we will remain permanently in opposition where we will be totally unaccountable.

"I have been told the group is eight plus one, now it is nine minus one. I'm resigning my party membership and that of the council group."

Asked after the meeting why he chose to leave in the manner in which he did, Coun Whitham replied: "There is a general election going on, so you need to get people's attention.

"Some of us don't like the way it is going, both locally and nationally."

During his speech opposition member Coun David Hicks approached the mayor and chief executive asking how such an overtly political speech could be permitted given the clear instructions that had only just been laid out.

Not only that but a table had been set out before the meeting for two independent candidates to sit; one for Lib Dem incinerator rebel Coun Nick Mattey, the other for Coun Whitham.

Following his speech Coun Whitham was given a standing ovation from several of the Liberal Democrat counciillors.

In a statement released following the meeting Coun Crowley said: "Councillor Graham Whitham had been a member of the Conservative party for many years and was happy to stand as Conservative candidate at last year's council elections.

"It became clear that it he found it difficult losing the leadership of the Conservative group by a unanimous decision. This coupled with the loss of the leader of the opposition's allowance may have caused him some concern and he must judge his decision by his own conscience."

Coun Whitham's first actions as an independent was to back increasing councillor allowances and block the opposition's bid to have a recorded vote on who supported the measures.