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County Durham town mayor quits over 'God-phobia'

Richard Smith said it was with "deep and profound sadness" that he was stepping down as Chair of Ferryhill Council, a decision which followed "weeks of adverse publicity" concerning opinions he voiced about homosexuality and Islam.

In a letter, he said: "To be denied the opportunity to hold personal views was never my expectation when I undertook the role of Town Mayor, and it is a matter of sincere regret to me that those personal views have been so tragically and outrageously twisted and reported on in order to discredit both myself and my faith.

"I am stepping aside with immediate effect..."

Mr Smith, who has been a pastor of Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in Ferryhill since 2003, shared on his Facebook page an article which referred to homosexuality as "sin" and a comment that people are not allowed to "speak the truth" about transgenderism.

Some local councillors and residents had called for a Mr Richard to resign as Mayor.

A female impersonator known as Tess Tickle told the BBC she was "in total shock and disbelief" at Mr Smith's remarks.

Mr Richard said he had received "widespread messages of support" amid a "vendetta being waged against me", adding he had been in contact with police about the way he and his family had been treated.

He continued: "My Faith in Christ is what drives me to help people regardless of their faith, colour, culture, sexuality, or political persuasion.

"People who really know me and Lauraine and the Church can truly comment on how hard we have lovingly worked to help and provide for those in need, this has now been decimated by the minority mob along with those wishing to score political points and who have a God-phobia."

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said in support of Richard: "Councillor Smith has posted nothing illegal.

"He is a pastor of a church and nothing he has said contradicts the teaching of the Bible.

"An aggressive lobby is determined to distort those views, take them out of context, and ultimately silence and remove anyone who adheres to them."

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