Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said his arrest had been a ‘painful shock’ © Jon Super/FT

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson is stepping aside temporarily days after being arrested as part of an investigation into building and development contracts in the city.

The 62-year-old Labour mayor was questioned for six hours by police last Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation. He said on Thursday that he would take unpaid leave until at least December 31 while the Merseyside force carry out their investigation.

“It is important that everyone in Liverpool knows that our leaders are focused on what is most important to the people; their livelihoods and, with a pandemic still in force, their lives,” he said in a statement.

“For this reason, I believe it is important that the city, and government, are reassured that our city is indeed operating in the correct way.”

Mr Anderson, who was released on police bail after questioning, said he expected the force to clarify its intentions on December 31. “I am going to focus on co-operating with the police in their ongoing inquiry, as I believe time will make it clear that I have no case to answer.”

He came under increasing pressure to step aside after the government wrote to the council earlier this week seeking information about the supervision of the city’s planning and regeneration departments’ recent and planned property sales.

Senior Labour figures have also privately urged the mayor to relinquish his post temporarily. He was suspended from the party immediately following his arrest.

He will be replaced by the city’s deputy mayor, Wendy Simon. “Our number one priority remains on steering this great city and its people through the pandemic — and preparing for the recovery,” she said. “I am a leader who believes in the collective, a politician who believes that everyone has to see and be able to access opportunity.”

Mr Anderson was arrested on December 4 with four men, who were also released on police bail. A total of 11 people are now under investigation as part of the year-long probe.

Mr Anderson, who said the arrest had been a “painful shock”, became Liverpool’s first directly elected mayor in 2012 and has been leader of the city since 2010.

Last year he won the Labour nomination to run for a third term in May's elections, which were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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