A SENIOR Castle Point Borough councillor went through months of purgatory before being cleared of assaulting a political rival in the build up to last May's elections, his lawyer has claimed.

Bill Sharp, Conservative councillor for the St James ward, stood trial at Southend Magistrates' Court yesterday over an alleged assault of Ukip borough council candidate, and former Tory, James Parkin.

Mr Sharp, 68, of Softwater Lane, Benfleet, was alleged to have shoved Mr Parkin during an altercation outside a surgery at the old Hadleigh Fire Station, in London Road, on Saturday, March 14.

Mr Parkin claimed the former deputy leader of the council swore at him, challenged him to a fight and pushed him in the right shoulder or chest area, causing him to stumble back several paces.

Southend Standard:

James Parkin, at the fire station he claimed to have been assaulted outside

However, following the morning-long trial, the magistrates - chaired by Martin Everett - found the accused not guilty of the assault.

Mr Everett said: “We do not believe that the CCTV provides any corroborative evidence with the allegations of an assault.

“Mr Sharp gave a clear account of the sequence of events but there were discrepancies between the prosecution witnesses’ accounts of events.

“We found that Mr Sharp was a credible witness, of good character, and that he did not assault Mr Parkin.”

The alleged incident occurred in the middle of a campaign for last May’s elections and was sparked by Jamie Huntman, the Ukip parliamentary candidate for Castle Point, crossing London Road, from where his party’s leafletting team were, to the other side, where Conservative councillor Colin Riley was thought to be taking photos of their stall.

Mr Riley soon retreated back into the Tory surgery in the fire station and CCTV showed Mr Huntman then approaching Mr Sharp, who was outside making notes on his iPad.

Mr Parkin then crossed the road himself, claiming he was simply going to say hello to his former Tory colleague, at which point he told the court Mr Sharp launched the unprovoked assault and acted like a “hooligan” and a “playground bully”.

Mr Sharp admitted there was a confrontation between the two groups, but that it was caused by Mr Huntman accusing him of hitting women and making allegations about his former partner, who is now with another Ukip rival, Bob Spink.

Mr Sharp said: “I absolutely did not assault Mr Parkin.

“Mr Huntman was accusing me of abusing women and that if he was a woman I would have hit him by now.

“He was provoking me in a confrontational way but I did not respond to what they had to say.

“A Ukip sign was right in my face as I think they were trying to put it on top of the Conservative sign behind me.

“I cannot completely accurately say what happened then but I am sure that I did not touch Mr Parkin and no assault occurred.”

"NINE MONTHS OF PURGATORY"

BILL Sharp went through nine months of purgatory his lawyer claimed after he was found not guilty yesterday.

Mr Sharp was supported in court by his Conservative councillor colleagues Colin Riley, Simon Hart and the Castle Point mayor, Andrew Sheldon.

Mr Hart gave evidence in the trial and congratulated his fellow councillor outside the courtroom after the verdict had been delivered.

Mr Sharp chose not to speak to the press but was active on social media after leaving court, retweeting messages of support and having his own say on the outcome.

He tweeted: “Not guilty as I knew would be the case. What a huge waste of public resource! CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] have questions to be answered.”

Mr Sharp’s legal representative, David Hook, spoke briefly on Mr Sharp’s behalf and said he was thankful that the whole ordeal was now over.

He said: "Obviously my client is very relieved at the outcome but we were disappointed that it even came to trial.

"He has had nine months of absolute purgatory.

“He is clearly a man of previous good character and the whole case centred round an allegation of a shove in the middle of an election campaign.

“You do have to ask yourself who thought it was justified to bring it forward to court.

“Maybe it was too much of a hot potato to not bring it to court though, the CPS have been under pressure with not taking action so maybe that played a part.”