A FORMER chairman of Stroud District Council has been suspended from the Conservatives after sharing a “xenophobic” Facebook post by the English Defence League.

Mark Rees, a former Labour councillor who defected to the Tories only last week, has been plunged into controversy mere days after joining his old rivals.

A spokesman for the Conservative party said: “We can confirm Mr Rees has been suspended from the party with immediate effect pending investigation.

“This decision was made very recently after we received a serious complaint in the last 24 hours.

“We’ve seen something which worries us. This is normal policy when we get a complaint of this sort."

After the suspension was announced, the SNJ was sent a screenshot of the post which was shared on Mr Rees’ Facebook page.

It shares a joke about a Muslim woman and her son that was originally posted by the English Defence League (EDL), a controversial far-right protest movement which opposes the spread of Islamism in the United Kingdom.

Stroud News and Journal:

The post has since been deleted.

An unnamed Labour councillor on Stroud District Council branded the post as “disgraceful” and “xenophobic”.

Another said: “This is something that a UKIP candidate would share rather than a Conservative. I hope they are looking at this closely.”

Lesley Williams, leader of the Labour Group at Gloucestershire County Council, said: “This is a good indication of why Mr Rees is not part of the Labour Party.”

Mr Rees admitted posting the joke but said it had been done “by accident”, stressing it in no way represented his values.

“I am not a racist and I don’t endorse any kind of phobia,” he told the SNJ.

“I am a Christian man and I will stand up for what I believe in. I have my values and they are important to me.

“If I honestly believe in something I’ll defend it. But I certainly do not defend this post. I do not agree with it.

“I don’t know how it was shared but it was an accident. I can’t even remember sharing it and I have deleted it since.

“It wasn’t done deliberately with any malice or hatred. I am sorry if anyone was offended.

“I have a wide range of friends and have always stood up for the communities I’ve represented.”

He said he had been made aware of his suspension earlier today and would be meeting with Conservative officials to discuss it.

He added: “I am fully willing to co-operate in whatever way I can. If I’ve made a genuine mistake and they are going to suspend me then I’ll hold my hands up and apologise.

“But I think this is a political smear by members of the Labour party.

“They feel threatened by me and they are acting like spoilt teenagers. It proves they are the nasty party.

“They will do anything to stop me standing against them. But it won’t work.

“I wholly expect to be standing for the Rodborough seat next year.”

The shock suspension comes after Stroud MP Neil Carmichael last week welcomed the former Labour politician into the Tory ranks.

The Conservative MP described Mr Rees as a “long standing community champion” who would be a welcome addition to the party.

The politician’s comeback got off to a stumbling start after Conservatives announced he would be standing for a seat that doesn’t exist.

The Conservative Group in Gloucestershire wrongly announced he had been selected as a Tory candidate for Cainscross – which is not a real division in the county council.

It has since been conformed he will challenge the Rodborough seat currently held by Labour’s Brian Oosthuysen.

Born in Leonard Stanley, Mr Rees now 60, started his political career as a parish councillor in Randwick and Cainscross before moving to the district council and propelling himself to council chairman.