A council leader has reacted angrily to claims that he intimidated staff of Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group.

The CCG accused Richmondshire District Council leader John Blackie of bullying and intimidation during a public and warned that its staff could leave similar events if anything similar occurred in future.

The row erupted after a public meeting on a controversial plan by to remove 24-hour maternity consultant services from Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital – something the independent councillor believes will leave patients with unacceptable night-time journey times.

In a letter to North Yorkshire County Council assistant chief executive Carole Dunn, CCG chair Henry Cronin accused Cllr Blackie, who is also a county councillor, of breaching councillors’ code of conduct by saying: “As a local NHS, we don’t trust you anymore. You don’t inspire our confidence. Your safety argument doesn’t stack up. We’d like to believe you but we can’t.”

Mr Cronin wrote: “Councillor Blackie’s statement implies that we are not telling the truth when we talk about the issues we have regarding safety at the Friarage Hospital.

“If Councillor Blackie truly believes that we are lying to our public, and intends to keep making such accusations, then I suggest he produces some evidence to support these claims.

“As it is he appears to be intent in undermining the work of the CCG in the eyes of the public. We consider the behaviour described above to be bullying and intimidating in its nature.”

Cllr Blackie, who does not dispute the words attributed to him, accused the group of attempting to “seek to stifle or silence critics of what it proposes to do on the thinnest of pretexts that simply do not stand up to close examination. This is a sinister development.”