A council leader lost a vote of no confidence of party members just days before she announced she was stepping down.

A Liberal Democrat source, who asked not to be named, has told the Observer that former Three Rivers District Council leader Cllr Sara Bedford lost the vote, which is understood to have involved all 22 Lib Dem councillors and to have taken place on the evening of July 9.

It is understood Cllr Bedford narrowly lost the vote.

At a full council meeting held on July 14, Cllr Bedford told members she was stepping down, citing her struggle with mental health difficulties, and was being replaced by Cllr Sarah Nelmes.

In her resignation speech, Cllr Bedford explained that she has been having mental health difficulties for some time and had suffered from “panic attacks” as a result of online abuse.

She added: “I have suffered repeated abuse and threats, such as calling me a traitor and an enemy of the people. That is really chilling.

“This has had a dreadful toll on my mental health.”

During an extraordinary council meeting held on July 28, Labour councillor Steve Cox suggested that a hate crime motion originally brought forward a year earlier may have been a factor in why a vote of no confidence was lost.

A motion originally scheduled to be debated in July 2019 asked the council to adopt both the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism and the All Party Parliamentary Group’s definition of Islamophobia.

But while there was almost unanimous support for the IHRA definition, there was less support for the Islamophobia definition and the motion was withdrawn on the day of the meeting. The motion again appeared in an agenda in February 2020 but was not debated.

A final version, passed at the extraordinary council meeting on July 28, mentioned neither definition and drew condemnation from Jewish councillors and one synagogue leader for not adopting the IHRA definition.

Cllr Bedford said in the meeting that the Lib Dems “just have a desire to see all faiths treated similarly and to say otherwise is a total misrepresentation of the facts”.

Cllr Cox said in the meeting when discussing Cllr Bedford's motion: “With greater flexibility on the proposer’s part, no vote of confidence would have been lost."

However, Lib Dem council chairman Keith Martin did not intervene when the Labour councillor made the statement.

He said: “If somebody says something which is factually inaccurate, and I know it to be factually inaccurate then I am to intervene and say something.”

Cllr Bedford said: “A small number of senior councillors and officers at Three Rivers, plus the editor and her deputy at the Watford Observer had known for many months of my mental health issues, for which I have been receiving regular psychiatric help and medication. They have all been supportive.

“On Tuesday July 7 I confided to the entire Liberal Democrat Group of my mental health struggles. Within 48 hours, a number of colleagues had demanded that I step down. I felt it best to get the help that I needed, with several colleagues saying they would like me to return when well.

“I would like to thank those many colleagues who have continued to support me. I am not ashamed of my illness, but I am saddened that when I asked for help and understanding from colleagues that it was not there, quite the opposite.”