UKIP has defended itself after rivals criticised the party for paying business owners to put up election posters and banners.

The anti-EU party has admitted paying shopkeepers and takeaway owners in Castle Point up to £50 to host signs in support of Jamie Huntman, its parliamentary candidate.

Ukip paid Peter Wright, landlord of Benfleet Tavern, £30 to hang a banner outside the pub in High Road, Benfleet.

Mr Wright removed the banner after complaints from neighbouring businesses and customers and finding out other businesses had been offered £50.

He said: “A couple of people were offended by me putting it up.

“Personally, I don’t vote, I don’t know who to vote for.

“I always used to be Conservative, but that was more than seven years ago.

“People across the road complained about me putting banners outside. I don’t want to upset anyone.”

Ukip also offered the Ocean fish and chip shop, in Hart Road, Thundersley, cash to put a poster in its window, but staff member Hang Lau agreed for free.

Mr Huntman said: “A lot of newsagents put things in their windows from other businesses promoting products.

“It doesn’t mean they support the product.

“Tory councillor Bill Dick has suggested people boycott the shops.

“He has said they will lose business if they put up Ukip posters. It’s part of the negative campaign the Tories are running.”

Colin Maclean, chairman of Castle Point Conservative Association, said: “It’s a desperate move.

“Every single person who has agreed to have a poster for our candidate, Rebecca Harris, on their property in Castle Point has agreed to have one for free because they support her campaign.”

A forest of election signs had sprung up across the hotly-contested constituency. Almost every house in lower Benfleet Road, Vicarage Hill and upper Essex Way, known locally as “Millionaires’ Row”, seems to have a board supporting Rebecca Harris.

Boards backing Mr Huntman are more prevalent around Tarpots, Benfleet, and on Canvey.