A Conservative Sutton councillor was suspended by his party over claims he harassed a fellow member, and was ordered to undergo social media training after posting what the accused claimed was a naked photo of him online.

Conservative ward councillor for St Helier, Steve Alvarez, was briefly suspended by his own party last month after allegations of online harassment against Labour councillor Sheldon Vestey, who represents the Hackbridge ward.

The suspension was the culmination of a bitter two-year feud between the pair, with Cllr Vestey alleging that Cllr Alvarez had subjected him to constant online harassment; a Met Police officer warned Alvarez to cease contact unless work-related, though no arrest was ever made.

Among social media posts directed at or responding to Vestey, was a photo of him appearing naked on the top half, though only his shoulders were visible.

This picture, taken when he was in his 20s, was posted by Alvarez, who claimed it showed the Labour member was sharing explicit images of himself online.

This photo, which Vestey says would involve some considerable searching through his social media to find, was posted by Alvarez at least twice in public messages on Twitter and at least once in a private message to Vestey.

In his messages, Alvarez also referred to property Vestey owned in Norfolk and other information published on Facebook groups Vestey was in that had no local link, which Vestey claimed showed he had spent considerable time going through his social media posts.

Alvarez, in turn, alleges that it is Vestey who has been harassing him through complaints and messages on social media.

Vestey told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that the bad blood seems to have started after he’d raised concerns with all councillors at Sutton Council over a video shared by Alvarez that he claimed appeared potentially racist in nature.

Vestey claims a council officer recommended he report the video to police, which he says he did.

Vestey told the LDRS: “For the following 18 months I attracted the unreasonable attention of what is ostensibly a coworker – who demonstrated a fascination with myself and my family, making comments about our plans, routines and holidays, commenting about pictures of our children, even sending highly sexualised [in respect of the historic photo showing me topless] and harassing messages resulting in the police asking him to cease contact.”

In an email seen by the LDRS, a Met Police officer tells Vestey he has asked Alvarez to stop contacting him unless it’s work-related.

The officer also says he will ‘make arrangements for an arrest enquiry’ and that the investigation ‘will be treated as stalking’. However Alvarez was not subsequently arrested and he denies any allegations of harassment or stalking.

The alleged racist video shared by Alvarez showed the controversial columnist Katie Hopkins mocking Shamima Begum.

The Met Police said it assessed the video as a possible hate crime but a spokesperson told the LDRS it was ‘not possible to identify the person responsible for posting the video and a decision was taken there would be no further action’.

Alvarez told the LDRS he disputed the claim that a council officer had explicitly said the video he shared was racist.

He said: “Vestey then claims a council employee referred to me posting a ‘racist video’, the implication clearly being I am racist.”

Alvarez admits to sharing the video in July 2020 but claims he captioned the post ‘Can you believe this woman?’ making it clear he did not agree with the content.

He says that he deleted it in 2022 but says that was due to the potential for people getting the wrong impression about his views. He also alleges that Vestey must have been trawling through his own social media page to find a post from two years prior that could be seen as offensive.

Alvarez admits posting the picture of a topless Vestey but denied there was any harassment involved.

He said: “While I acknowledge that my responses were somewhat childish, they were frustrated tit-for-tat responses to constant harassment and bullying of me by Vestey and his associates. For Vestey to suggest, as he has elsewhere, that I have some kind of sexual motive for doing this is plainly absurd. I was clearly mocking him.”

The Conservative Party carried out an investigation and held a misconduct hearing. Witness statements were submitted by Vestey as well as fellow Sutton councillor David Tchilingarian.

On March 22 2024, Conservative Campaign headquarters informed Vestey that its investigation had concluded, with Alvarez being suspended until the conclusion of its sanctions.

They wrote: “In this instance the panel decided that the appropriate sanction is a severe rebuke, social media training, removal of offending posts and that the respondent will be suspended until completion of the sanctions.”

That suspension, which has since lifted, was not made public by CCHQ or Sutton Conservatives and it is not known which allegations were found proved.

However, according to Alvarez, the training and other conditions were undertaken immediately and he was allowed to rejoin the party without the whip being withdrawn.

Alvarez remains a councillor for St Helier West, alongside fellow councillor Wendy Clarke.

Former Labour councillor Sheila Berry’s resignation last month triggered a by-election in the ward which is due to take place on May 2.

After the suspension, Vestey told the LDRS he ‘welcomed the severe rebuke and suspension of Cllr Alvarez by the Conservative Party following my complaint of sexual harassment and intimidation’.

Nearly two years on from his initial interactions with Alvarez, Vestey claimed that he and his family had suffered from the dispute. He also told the LDRS that his poor attendance at council meetings has in part been due to him wanting to avoid being in the same room as Alvarez.

He said: “Whilst I can’t speak for the others impacted, this has taken a toll on our family life and health, with time being taken off from council work, impacting residents. Under guidance from the police, I suspended public appearances, with disclosures made to our places of work, and our children’s schools around security concerns.” Vestey concluded: “There is simply no place for racism, harassment or bullying in elected life, and I hope that this brings the matter to a close.”

Dave Tchill, a fellow Hackbridge councillor and the other half of Sutton Labour’s now two-strong group, was a witness to Alvarez’s conduct and gave a statement to that effect.

He told the LDRS: “Having observed this torrid affair I am appalled by the intransigence of the Sutton Conservatives during the time this went on. The behaviour of the suspended councillor damages the reputation of politics and the lives of those affected.

“If the suspended councillor’s own leaders wouldn’t act to call it out then at least their national party did. The suspension speaks for itself, he should have spent less time trolling and more time doing real work.”

A spokesperson for Sutton Conservatives said, despite their national party’s decision to suspend Alvarez, that they agreed with him it was Vestey whose conduct had amounted to harassment.

The spokesperson accused Vestey of acting ‘in a totally bullying and unbecoming way as a councillor’ in complaining about the video shared by Alvarez with the whole council.

When approached for comment, a spokesperson from Sutton Council said: “Matters relating to councillors’ behaviour in undertaking their duties are covered by a Code of Conduct which is publicly available. Any specific allegations of breach of the Code are dealt with in accordance with the procedure set out in the council’s constitution. The council cannot comment on matters relating to individual allegations.”