LONG-SERVING Sandwell Council leader Bill Thomas has resigned from his position after being charged with theft.

The 69-year-old councillor for Rowley Regis was arrested yesterday (Thursday) as part of an ongoing investigation by West Midlands Police's Economic Crime Team.

Mr Thomas will appear before Sutton Coldfield Magistrates Court on Friday October 30.

Sandwell Council confirmed it received a letter from Mr Thomas today (Friday) in which he resigned as leader with immediate effect.

Principal deputy leader, Cllr Steve Eling, has taken over the role of leader of Sandwell Council.

A spokeswoman for West Midlands Police said: "A 69-year-old man from Rowley Regis has been charged with theft. He was arrested on Thursday October 22 as part of an ongoing investigation by the Economic Crime Team of West Midlands Police.

"The investigation continues - the charge relates to a personal matter and is not connected with the defendant's position at Sandwell Council.

"He will appear before Sutton Coldfield Magistrates on Friday October 30 at 10am."

Mr Thomas was set to retire next May - his nine-year stint at the helm of Sandwell Council made him the longest serving leader in the borough's history.

He was involved for 22 years as a member of local health authorities and trusts and was chairman of the Black Country Mental Health Trust for 11 years with his work leading to him being awarded the OBE.

Cllr Eling said, “Cllr Thomas’s resignation is for reasons which are wholly unconnected with the council and his role here.

“For us it is business as usual.

“I as leader - and cllrs Pauline Hinton and Darren Cooper as deputies - are available to ensure council business goes ahead smoothly.”

Sandwell’s Chief Executive, Dr Allison Fraser, said: “The council has been notified a 69-year-old man has been charged with theft.

“We have been advised by police that this is a personal matter.

“The council has not been approached by police about their investigation.”

Before going into politics Mr Thomas was a teacher for 33 years in Sandwell, including a ten year stint as headteacher at Smethwick Hall Boy's School.

He has battled ill health over the last few years including a broken hip and open heart surgery but was recently declared fit and well.