A SENIOR councillor decided not to stand for re-election just days before a campaign against him was due to start, it has been claimed.

Cllr Peter Rees, the leader of the Labour group on Winchester City Council, will not contest the St Luke ward on May 3.

His surprise decision came on the eve of the launch of a campaign against him by property landlord John Airey, who has had a long-running dispute with Cllr Rees.

Cllr Rees said he was standing down for "entirely personal reasons".

Mr Airey, a Conservative supporter, claims an earlier campaign was responsible for the defeat of veteran Labour councillor Patrick Davies in the city council elections in 2006.

Mr Airey said: "I was going to be doing the same thing, putting up lots of anti-Rees posters at my homes in Stanmore and leafleting the Stanmore estate about him.

"I promised that if Cllr Rees did not stand I would give £2,000 to the Carroll Youth Centre in Stanmore which I will now do."

Mr Airey said his feud with Cllr Rees stemmed from the time they were neighbours in Monarch Way. He blames Cllr Rees for trying to instigate enforcement action against him.

Cllr Rees said: "I am standing down for entirely personal reasons. I only ever intended to be an elected member for one term. There is no relationship between the claims of any individual and my decision. I am not aware of any tangible evidence of a campaign against me by any individual.

"From our analysis of the 2006 election returns, there is no evidence that the defeat of Patrick Davies was remotely connected with an individual campaign."

On April 2, solicitors, London-based Steel and Shamash, representing Cllr Rees, wrote a warning letter to Mr Airey.

It stated: "We have been shown copies of a number of e-mails and letters which you have sent or copied to Cllr Rees. It is our view that you may have committed an offence under section 1 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997."

The letter continued: "In our view, the letters and e-mails which you have sent to our client between May 10, 2003 until January 11, 2007, are of a similar type and all in the context of "exposing" Cllr Rees' alleged inadequacies as a member of the council and several are threatening or potentially defamatory in nature."

Mr Airey denied that he had been harassing Cllr Rees and said the letter would not have stopped his campaign.

Labour's candidate in the ward is David Smith. Alexis Fall is contesting it for the Liberal Democrats, Robert Ducker for the Tories and David Abbott for UK Independence Party.