A Barnet Conservative councillor has defected to the Liberal Democrats, claiming the Tories had “given up on communities like ours”.

Helene Richman, who has represented the West Hendon ward for the Conservatives since 2018, has quit the group just one month before local elections take place on 5th May.

In a recorded statement posted to Twitter on Sunday, Cllr Richman said she had dedicated her “heart and soul” to improving the lives of residents, but added: “I’m watching as the Conservatives are letting inequality rise and living standards drop. They have given up on communities like ours.”

Explaining why she’d chosen to join the Liberal Democrats instead, Cllr Richman said:  “The Lib Dems believe in giving voice to communities like West Hendon.

“Like me, the Lib Dems believe in a fair and just society, where everyone, no matter what their background, feels comfortable and supported.”

The former Tory described the Lib Dems as “the party of the grass roots, of local champions”, adding: “That’s what I stand for.”

During her time as ward councillor, Cllr Richman said she had campaigned against the closure of a police base and to save a local pub, tackled fly-tipping, founded a foodbank and worked on the regeneration of West Hendon Broadway.

Cllr Richman’s defection brings the number of Liberal Democrats on Barnet Council to three. Group leader Gabriel Rozenberg is himself a former Conservative, while colleague Jess Brayne, who is not standing for re-election in May, is ex-Labour.

Cllr Rozenberg said: “I’m thrilled to welcome Cllr Helene Richman to the Liberal Democrats today. She is a fabulous and relentless campaigner for West Hendon residents. Voters in West Hendon, whoever they typically vote for, should lend a vote to Helene, so she can carry on her outstanding work on behalf of all residents.”

There have been some allegations made about Cllr Richman’s conduct as a councillor, however, that the Tories claim is the real reason for her leaving the party.

In a statement posted to Twitter shortly after the defection was announced, Dan Thomas, leader of Barnet Conservatives, said: “I am absolutely delighted Cllr Helene Richman has left the Conservative Party. She leaves under a cloud of two outstanding and serious complaints regarding her conduct. In my personal opinion, she is not suitable to be a councillor and was recently subject to proceedings regarding her candidacy, which I believe forced her to jump before she was pushed.

“In 2020, a recording of Cllr Richman making unpleasant remarks to West Hendon residents came to light. She apologised after I spoke with her, and I genuinely thought she had improved her behaviour. Sadly, recent incidents have caused me to change my mind. The Liberal Democrats welcoming Helene illustrates how desperate they are. I look forward to working with our new West Hendon candidates and continuing our positive campaign.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Richman said she entirely disputed the leader’s claims. She said that in cases that are serious enough to warrant an investigation, “normally you would expect the whip to be removed”, but in her case that had not happened. “I did not do anything wrong”, she added.

Responding to the comments, Sarah Wardle, the Barnet Conservatives’ election agent for the Hendon area, said Cllr Richman had been removed from the approved list of candidates on the basis of the complaints raised, and this was subject to appeal. In order to stand for the Conservative Party, candidates need to be on the approved list.