A FORMER Conservative councillor making a bid to stand as an independent candidate in the local election has come under fire for publishing a photoshopped picture kicking off his campaign.

Community champion Shaz Saleem issued a press release and a picture of himself and fellow independent candidates who plan to stand for election in the Kingswinford area on May 2.

Mr Saleem, a former Dudley Council cabinet member who represented Kingswinford North and Wall Heath from 2021 to 2023, outlined his campaign to return to office – as an independent candidate – with a promise to prioritise “community over politics”.

Announcing the news, he issued a press photograph showing himself in a picture with Cassie Gray from TSF Youth Group, who plans to also stand as an indie candidate in the ward, plus Brian Bassingthwaighte of Kingswinford Christian Centre and Adam Waldron from Ska Boys Boxing Academy, who both plan to stand as candidates for Kingswinford South.

Dudley News: L-r - Brian Bassingthwaighte, Adam Waldron, Shaz Saleem and Cassie GrayL-r - Brian Bassingthwaighte, Adam Waldron, Shaz Saleem and Cassie Gray (Image: Handout)

Tory councillors, however, have accused Mr Saleem and his team of photoshop trickery – creating a composite picture by adding Adam Waldron into a line-up picture of the group.

Mr Saleem, who started the Wall Heath Kuppa Club and Kingswinford Youth Group, said it was simply a case of not being able to get all the candidates together for a picture in time.

He confirmed he had sent out a photoshopped image and candidly told the News: “There’s no denying it.

“One of our guys couldn’t make it so we took separate pictures and put it together.”

Dudley News: Adam Waldron - pixels can be seen around the image of Mr Waldron who has been added to the original line-up pictureAdam Waldron - pixels can be seen around the image of Mr Waldron who has been added to the original line-up picture (Image: Handout)

Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley Council and the borough’s Conservative group, condemned the decision to put out an edited image and said: “The people of Kingswinford are not stupid. Before any rash promises are made - we have the self-proclaimed king of selfies photoshopping his candidates and already misleading people."

Mr Saleem, however, hit back at the accusation – accusing the Tories of “childish tactics”.

He said: “Instead of focusing on serious issues like fixing our roads – they’re focusing on a pic which is harmless. It’s genuine people that are standing for election.”

He said the image was created weeks ago before the media storm that has unfolded over a picture released on Mother’s Day of the Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton, which news agencies said had been photoshopped.

Mr Saleem said all of the candidates shown in the picture give up their time to help the community and he added: “They’re not political. Adam is a young lad, he’s an amazing boxing teacher…teaching youngsters to get them off the streets.

“It’s about the message we want to put across.

“Community over politics, that is what we believe in, that is where we will see real change.”

He said having been involved with both big main parties – the Conservatives and Labour – “there isn’t much difference between the two” and he said he and his fellow independent campaigners want to “bring in community ambassadors who are visible in our local area and approachable to all our residents”.

He added: “We take it as a compliment that they (the Conservatives) see us as a threat.

“There’s going to be a lot of independents standing. For the first time ever -independents will be a viable third option.”