Leicester's mayor, who broke lockdown rules to meet his lover, tries the patience of officials

Bill Gardner
·3-min read
Sir Peter Soulsby appear to have finally warmed to the idea of reintroducing restrictions - Joe Giddens/PA
Sir Peter Soulsby appear to have finally warmed to the idea of reintroducing restrictions - Joe Giddens/PA
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

As a rallying call to the people of Leicester to stay apart as much as possible, it was a curious choice of words. "Our message, very clearly, is stick together," declared Sir Peter Soulsby, the city's Mayor, on Monday.

It came after a week in which the 71-year-old Labour politician repeatedly attacked the Government's plan to combat a rise in cases as "cobbled together", insisting there was "nothing special" about the spread of the virus in his city.

By Monday afternoon, Sir Peter appeared to have finally warmed to the idea of reintroducing restrictions, even suggesting the lockdown should have been brought in earlier.

Behind the scenes, however, senior Whitehall officials revealed frustration at what they saw as incompetence and delaying tactics on the part of Sir Peter and his colleagues on Leicester City Council.

One senior source pointed to Sir Peter's own behaviour after he had previously admitted breaking lockdown rules by visiting his girlfriend at her home.

Sir Peter visited his lover, Lesley Summerlan, in contravention of lockdown rules
Sir Peter visited his lover, Lesley Summerlan, in contravention of lockdown rules

"This guy doesn't like lockdown. He broke lockdown and had to be spoken to by the police over it," the source told the Telegraph.

"After Matt [Hancock] talked about it last Thursday, we got a load of s*** from people locally. Soulsby was going out saying it was a lie, there's no outbreak, there's just a few more cases. They've been in denial about this."

Sir Peter, an ex-secondary school teacher, formerly served as Leicester City Council leader and was the Labour MP for Leicester South from 2005 to 2011, when he resigned to take up the new role of elected mayor of the city. He was knighted in 1999 for services to local government.

Earlier this month, he was pictured halfway up a ladder outside his girlfriend's house during lockdown, despite urging the people of Leicester to "stay safe at home".

Neighbours filmed him on several occasions as he arrived to meet his partner, Lesley Summerland, 64, throughout April and May. He was seen carrying an overnight bag and clean shirt on a hanger, and later climbing a ladder to fit a window.

At the time, people were barred from travelling to any homes but their own, and lovers were banned from overnight stays. Police spoke to Sir Peter after the visits came to light and reminded him about the restrictions, although no further action was taken.

Speaking earlier this month, Sir Peter apologised for the error of judgment but pointed to other "high-profile people" who had flouted the lockdown. "I don't think anybody would claim that there was anything in my behaviour that ran any risk whatsoever of spreading the virus," he told the BBC.

A Government source suggested Sir Peter was "all over the place" when it came to deciding how to tackle a rise in Covid-19 cases.

"One of the things he said was that the Government was targeting Leicester and he didn't believe the data, which was bordering on conspiracy stuff really," the source said. "Why would the Government want to close down a city?

"It's not something we wanted to do, but had to do to stop there being a national lockdown again and to keep people safe."

The Telegraph understands that the health minister Nadine Dorries first held conversations with Leicester's MPs and leaders a fortnight ago, prior to Mr Hancock raising the spike in cases at a Downing Street press conference. 

"For two weeks we've been all over it," the source said, adding: "He [Sir Peter] has been aware of that.

"What the Mayor is doing Leicester is giving muddled messages so the communities don't understand what is going on."