Tory politician called on to resign after breaking coronavirus social distancing rules

Kelham Cooke, second from right, appears to flout coronavirus lockdown rules. Photograph: Instagram.

Kelham Cooke, second from right, appears to flout coronavirus lockdown rules. Photograph: Instagram. - Credit: Archant

A Tory politician is facing calls to resign after he appeared to break coronavirus social distancing rules at a gathering with friends.

Kelham Cooke, the leader of South Kesteven District Council in Lincolnshire, appeared in a photo posing with pals during a recent weekend getaway.

In the picture, taken in Dorset over a week ago, Cooke is seen smiling with his arms around four friends which includes Luke Graystone, who is the chief of staff to Tory MP Andrea Leadsom.

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The photo has provoked an outpouring of anger among locals that a politician who had advised them to be socially distant to curb the spread of the coronavirus was now flouting his own rules.

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Council opposition leader Charmaine Morgan, who represents Labour, called on Cooke to do 'the right thing' and step down

She said: 'The incident brings into question Councillor Cooke's judgment.

'There were at least five different people potentially from five different parts of the country who all came together in one household and who were clearly breaking social distancing rules.'

She added: 'We expect certain standards from everybody at a really critical time, and politicians should be setting an example to everybody else, and I would certainly be judgmental of anybody else who doesn't follow the rules.

'It's quite unacceptable for people to think they are above the law that has been laid down and, particularly with what we know about Covid-19, it would potentially be putting people's lives at risk.'

Independent councillor Jan Hansen added: 'Residents of South Kesteven certainly do deserve to be shown a higher standard of leadership from the hierarchy at the district council, which does not appear to have been demonstrated here.

'Sadly, it would seem that councillor Cooke's position has become untenable as a result of his cavalier actions.

Hansen called for an urgent meeting of councillors to discuss how to deal with the situation.

'I would like to add that if a vote is decided upon regarding councillor Cooke's future, it is imperative that fellow councillors vote according to their own consciences, and not following the usual undemocratic whipping process normally exercised at council meetings,' he said.

Cooke wrote to local newspapers calling for people to observe social distancing rules. 'Social distancing is vitally important for everyone,' he wrote.

'It isn't just about protecting ourselves from the virus, it is about protecting our friends, our families, and those who are supporting our communities.

'If we think about it, we will all know someone who is particularly vulnerable to Covid-19; it is our responsibility to protect them.'

Cooke has since apologised and admitted he 'unintentionally' broke the guidelines.

He said: 'The government's guidelines have been designed to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus which I fully support, and I recognise the importance of us all adhering to this guidance.

'I have always sought to follow social distancing measures, however, on this occasion I unintentionally transgressed the guidelines.

'I sincerely apologise for this mistake.'

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