EXCLUSIVE: Cambridgeshire councillor set to fight on to become police commissioner despite criminal damage court appearance today

SELECTION of the Conservative nominee for the new Cambridgeshire Police Commissioner post took a dramatic turn today after a leading contender appeared in court on a criminal damage charge.

County councillor Shona Johnstone appeared before Cambridge magistrates to face a single allegation of criminal damage at Over on February 23.

The Willingham councillor has protested her innocence and will defend the charge at a trial date fixed for August 28.

The case today was opened and adjourned following her plea of not guilty but the charge has thrown her political prospects into turmoil.

Many of her closest supporters have urged her to continue as a candidate although, ironically, she will almost certainly have to withdraw from Cambridgeshire Police Authority where she has been a county council nominee since 2008.

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Cllr Johnstone has been a Conservative party member for 25 years and only recently celebrated her 50th birthday. Her career bounced back in formidable style after losing the county council leadership in the row over the appointment of new chief executive Mark Lloyd.

The decision to charge her with criminal damage follows an incident involving a parked van on a cycleway.

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Unlike fellow county councillor Steve Count of March- who failed even to get an interview- Cllr Johnstone has become a popular and highly fancied prospect for the newly created �70,000 a year role.

The selection process this weekend moves to the next stage where five other Tory hopefuls- including former Luton MP Sir Graham Bright, a former PPS to John Major, and John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce. Mr Bright lives in Fordham, Cambridgeshire.

Cllr Johnstone has been urged, I understand, to continue with her campaign by fellow Cambridgeshire Tories although new leader Nick Clarke is thought to have asked her to consider her position.

The aim of this weekend’s selection process is to whittle the short list down to between two and four and move to a final selection at the beginning of July.

Cllr Johnstone is suspended from the Conservative group on the council pending the outcome of the trial.

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