The Middlesbrough Evening Gazette has complained that local MP Sir Stuart Bell has not returned more than 100 phone-calls made by its journalists.
The Labour MP has represented Middlesbrough since 1983 and held on to his seat with a comfortable majority of 8,609 at the 2010 general election.
The Trinity Mirror-owned daily yesterday published an investigation into the MP, who has not held a constituency surgery for 14 years. Instead, according to the Gazette, he meets constituents via appointment.
The Gazette reported yesterday that 100 calls made to his Westminster office and constituency home had gone unanswered. It also questioned Bell’s record in Parliament and published interviews with constituents who said they have also had trouble making contact with the MP.
The Gazette said that it has also written to Bell and given him more than a week to respond to their story and that he had yet to respond to them.
Today, however, the Gazette did publish comments made by Bell to BBC Radio Tees in which he said”I’m a member of Parliament. We have a House of Commons switchboard that sits 24 hours a day all year long.
‘There’s not a single recorded call from this particular person. There is no recorded call on my office numbers. We have absolutely no record of this person calling. It’s a total mystery to me.
‘We do have answer machines because we get so many calls but every call that is made and every message that is left is responded to.
‘We have three staff who work full-time on handling constituency matters – letters, emails, text messages, personal interviews.
‘I meet people every Friday in Middlesbrough, I go to their homes, I’m on the council estates.
‘I have lived in Middlesbrough 30 years in November, it’s amazing. I have been the MP for 28. I have also won seven elections.
‘Nobody has a problem with me.”
He said that he no longer holds public surgeries because he was attacked during one.
‘If the people in the area don’t know what I’m doing I would be surprised. We have a newsletter that goes to every house in the constituency.
‘We will communicate with our electorate the way that’s best suited to them and best suited to me.”
The Gazette today published a follow-up front-page in which it said it had been “inundated with support from Teesiders” over its investigation into the MP.