Restraining order for Councillor Thomas Lawton in harassment case
LABOUR councillor Thomas Lawton has been ordered to stay away from a woman he was accused of harassing.
The 21-year-old was handed a five-year restraining order at North Staffordshire Magistrates' Court following complaints by Melissa Hampton.
Deputy District Judge David Miller warned Mr Lawton he could be jailed if he attempted to contact Ms Hampton again.
Mr Lawton, who represents Silverdale and Parksite on Newcastle Borough Council, has now resigned from chairing the authority's Labour group.
He was charged with harassment after sending Ms Hampton a series of texts on April 13.
He had previously received a warning and a formal caution from the police after earlier complaints of harassment.
The texts Mr Lawton sent related to a request for a mobile phone to be returned.
Prosecutor Ian Pinkney said: "There were five messages over the course of 40 minutes, where he was trying to satisfy a query about a phone. This was the last straw for the complainant. She'd had enough. There had been police warnings and a caution."
But Judge Miller ruled that the series of texts on that particular day did not amount to a course of conduct and dismissed the charges against Mr Lawton.
But he said a restraining order to prevent any further harassment would be appropriate in this case.
The order, which will be in force until 2017, bars Mr Lawton from contacting Ms Hampton, directly or indirectly, in person, by phone, or electronically.
Breaching a restraining order is a criminal offence which can result in a prison sentence.
Judge Miller said: "The charges against you have been dismissed. But do not think I am approving what you did on April 13. Sending those text messages about the return of some may not have been a bad thing to do, but you had been warned by police that your conduct amounted to harassment.
"If there is any further contact you will be in breach of this restraining order. It will also mean that this conduct will be brought up again.
"I am satisfied you have been guilty of causing harassment to Melissa Hampton. There is a need to protect her from further harassment. If you have to contact her again it must be through a solicitor."
Mr Lawton, of Droitwich Close, Silverdale, was elected to the borough council last May.
A spokesman for West Midlands Labour Party said: "Councillor Lawton has stood down as vice-chairman of the licensing committee and as chairman of the Labour group, for personal reasons."
Council leader and Labour group leader Gareth Snell declined to comment further.