The leader of Barnet Council found events leading up to the suspension of Brian Coleman “difficult to handle”.

Councillor Richard Cornelius made the admission after senior Tories from Conservative Campaign Headquarters suspended his friend and colleague from the national party yesterday.

The decision was taken after former Barnet Mayor Cllr Coleman was last week charged with assaulting a woman in North Finchley High Road.

Council and Tory group leader Cllr Cornelius has come under fire in the past when dealing with the controversial politician and admitted he has felt the strain of the latest scandal.

Speaking to the Times Series this morning, he said: “I’ve never dealt with anything like this in the past before but equally I’ve only been group leader for a year.

“I have found it very difficult to deal with because I know and like Brian. These allegations have come along and I’ve found it very difficult to handle.

“It is a very difficult matter to steer on the right course because you can’t have any supposition of guilt.”

Totteridge representative Mr Cornelius revealed he only found out about his ward colleague’s suspension on the way to a group meeting on Tuesday.

Members were due to vote on whether to suspend the councillor in wake of the charges but the decision was taken out of their hands.

Cllr Cornelius said: “It was always a possibility. Brian Coleman has a Conservative presence outside of Barnet, which is why it is not just a Barnet decision.

“The group will not now be distracted by his trial while the suspension is in operation and equally it allows him to concentrate on his defence.

“Let’s now wait and see what happens, I’ve said it before but he is innocent until proven guilty.”