THE leader of Weymouth and Portland Borough Council has made a shock exit from the Conservative group and become an independent member.

Geoff Petherick made the switch from the largest elected group on the council after failing to secure a second term as leader in a vote.

The Conservative group holds elections for a leader every year after local elections.

Coun Petherick was keeping tight-lipped about the decision when contacted by the Echo for comment, saying: “I am not prepared to confirm or deny it.”

But it was confirmed by Mike Goodman, the man who replaces him as leader of the Tories and the council.

Members voted 10 to six in favour of Coun Goodman, who led the group for three years before being ousted by Coun Petherick last year.

Coun Goodman said: “Councillor Petherick was voted in as deputy leader, it was an exact swap of what happened 12 months ago.

“Councillor Petherick has declared himself an independent and that is a matter of public record.

“He was voted in as deputy leader of the Conservative party on Monday and wasn’t in the group on Tuesday.”

Coun Goodman said the decision would mean a change to the make-up of groups like the management committee, as the proportion of independent councillors had increased.

He said: “I was sad to hear the decision as we have worked together for a number of years.”

Conservative councillor for Preston Hazel Bruce said she was sad to see Coun Petherick go.

She said: “He has worked his socks off and done an awful lot of work for the council.”

Conservative councillor for Westham East Ian James said he understood what Coun Petherick would be going through as he had been through a similar experience when he crossed the floor from the Liberal Democrats.

He said: “Geoff is very clever and he knows his stuff. He will be very much missed, but the good thing is he is staying on the council and so it will still keep his expertise but it’s just sad he’s not in the Conservative party.”

Former Conservative councillor for Weymouth East Roger Allen, who stood down before last week’s local elections, said: “Geoff has been inspirational in getting cross-party consensus on difficult issues.

“Unfortunately he has not always stopped to listen quite as much as he might have done which has possibly resulted in the changes.”