A FORMER council chairman and church leader who joined the British National Party as a local organiser has dramatically turned his back on the far-right party.

The Rev John Stanton, who was Lib Dem chairman of Rochford District Council in 1997, admitted he was "stupid" for not knowing what the BNP really stood for when he signed up to the party about a year ago.

In yesterday's Echo, Mr Stanton, 75, who was the BNP organiser for Rochford District, said he joined the party because he agreed with their positions on Europe and immigration.

But he has now said: "I have ended my involvement with the BNP after finding out more about them at the weekend.

"It was very stupid of me, but I only read what they said about themselves, which I agreed with.

"Friends have contacted me to say: Those people are nasty.' My daughter rang me sobbing and said: What have you done?'"

Mr Stanton, who also heads the Rock Dene Christian Fellowship, a house church at his home in Leicester Avenue, Rochford, said it was the BNP's views on race that turned him off.

He said: "I had no idea party leader Nick Griffin has been convicted of inciting racial hatred. I also discovered the party was anti-Semitic and homophobic.

"I was misled by what they said about themselves. The impression I got when they joined was that it was just a very British, Christian organisation. Now, I don't really trust anything that they say.

"If a West African came here and adopted British values and customs, the impression I got was he would be welcome, but according to the BNP he wouldn't be."

Mr Stanton, who spent four years as a Lib Dem councillor in Rochford in the 1990s and five years as a Conservative in the 1970s, said he intended to formally finish with the party by writing letters to the BNP's hierarchy.

No one from the BNP, which plans to field a candidate in Hullbridge in next month's election, was available for comment.