AN investigation sparked by a frustrated UKIP councillor's online outbursts cost Dudley taxpayers £1,700.

Sedgley councillor Bill Etheridge faced a standards committee hearing last month over claims he had breached Dudley Council’s members’ code of conduct, which he refused to attend, saying he held the "whole thing in complete contempt".

The hearing was called after cllr Etheridge posted two videos on Facebook following a heated council meeting last October - in which he said the Council House should be demolished with the councillors inside and referred to the borough's Labour councillors as “a procession of morons and imbeciles” and “socialist do-gooder bleeding heart Communist rat bags”.

An official complaint was lodged by Labour group leader, Councillor Pete Lowe, which led to an independent investigation, which subsequently found cllr Etheridge had breached the members' code of conduct.

After cllr Etheridge requested a breakdown of the costs involved in the investigation, he was told by Mohammed Farooq, the council's monitoring officer, that investigating officer John Austin's fee amounted to £1,286.45 for the investigation, preparation of his report and attendance at the hearing on February 27.

A further cost of £413.55 is believed to have been incurred due to council officers' involvement in the investigation and their attendance at the meeting.

Cllr Etheridge, who is also a West Midlands MEP, said: “This is a massive bill of £1,700 for a witch hunt to close down free speech.

“If these delicate, tender souls have such timid dispositions, should they really be standing for public office?

“The only punishment possible is a vote to censure me. I can’t be kicked off any committees since my work as an MEP prevents me from sitting on any in the first place.

“Pete Lowe knew this and yet still went ahead with the complaint at great expense to Dudley taxpayers."

Cllr Lowe told the News that he agreed that the £1,700 spend was "totally avoidable" and "a waste of taxpayers’ money".

He added: "Unfortunately, it's Bill himself that's accountable. All he needed to do was apologise."

The former leader of the council said that if cllr Etheridge had taken the 'informal resolution route’, there would have been no need for the formal investigation or the Standards Sub-Committee hearing.

He continued: "I strongly felt he breached the member's code and if he'd been happy to apologise, it wouldn't have cost the people of Dudley a penny.

"Bill chose not to and incurred every single penny of those costs. It was totally avoidable."

Cllr Lowe said in the 15 years he had been a councillor, he had never before pursued a complaint against a fellow politician, adding: "It's not something done lightly.

"All elected councillors, irrespective of their party, have a duty to uphold Nolan principles," he said, adding that the committee was unanimous when it found cllr Etheridge had breached them.

He continued: "Even Bill admitted to breaching them. He had three or four opportunities to apologise and he chose not to, so he chose to incur the costs."