A TORY council leader has quit and issued a veiled warning to his successor over “bullying and interference and control from people who should know better”.

Mike Steptoe stepped down as leader of Rochford District Council with a swipe at “people” who seek to influence matters.

The former leader has said he was forced out of his position by outside forces, but declined to reveal who was behind it.

Mr Steptoe told the Echo the bullying had been ongoing throughout his time as leader.

However, sources suggested senior Tories outside the council had “whispered in the ears” of the Conservative councillors who were part of Mr Steptoe’s administration.

The source claimed they were attempting to “change some loyalties” inside the council.

At the meeting on Thursday evening, Tory Simon Wooton was elected leader of the council, replacing Mr Steptoe.

In his resignation speech, Mr Steptoe said: “I’m, of course, disappointed I’m not continuing as leader.

“Who would have thought back in January and February about the challenges we were about to face? I would like to thank the officers and I am sure members will agree without them we would have been very lacking.”

He concluded: “I would like to finish with a word of caution for the incoming administration, to make sure you look after officers and staff, you will have to go far to find better and I hope they find a way to deal with bullying, interference and control from people who should know better and will seek to influence matters.”

Conservative MP Mark Francois, who represents Rayleigh and Wickford, was asked by the Echo about differences within the party over council leadership.

However, he added: “As I am not a Rochford councillor, I never heard councillor Mike Steptoe’s remarks at the council meeting but, I am told he was obviously upset at no longer being the leader.

“I suppose this is understandable but I am sure his successor as leader, councillor Simon Wooton, will do a very good job.”

Mike Steptoe added he is staying on as ward councillor, and said “he had not spoken to Mark Francois for quite some time,” only to inform him of the death of Terry Cutmore.