A TORY candidate has apologised to his Labour rival after a tweet which sparked claims of racism.

Gavin Haran, Conservative candidate for Southend East and Rochford, was at the centre of a social media storm after a post on X, formerly Twitter, which critics claimed was an indirect reference to Labour candidate Bayo Alaba.

After attending a fayre in Great Wakering, Mr Haran posted an image playing a coconut shy game before a follower responded to ask “if he knocked down a coconut”.

In a now deleted post, Mr Haran responded: “I’m afraid to say all coconuts remains intact, but I have a plan to ensure that at least one coconut is removed from its perch.”

Mr Haran’s reply, in a post which attracted more than 5,700 likes, was branded “appalling” and “not acceptable”.

In an apology, Mr Haran said: “The photo and my response was referring to the game I was playing at the fayre I was at and any I would be playing in the future. I was in no way referring to an individual.

“I would never say anything like this and am very sorry that my words have been misconstrued, when it was brought to my attention that I had been misinterpreted, I immediately deleted it.

“Racism in all its forms is unacceptable and as someone of Tamil heritage, who has been a victim of racism in the past, I would never want to do anything that would be perceived in such a way.”

The social media storm followed a weekend of bad publicity for Southend’s Tories after Tory councillor Daniel Nelson was forced to apologise to Mr Alaba after his tweet sparked claims of a “smearing campaign” from senior Labour candidates. Mr Nelson had tweeted to ask if Mr Alaba was “still in France” on Saturday while the Labour candidate joined fellow veterans taking part in a charity parachute jump in Normandy.

Mr Alaba declined the opportunity to comment on Mr Haran’s tweet. A Labour spokesperson said: “The comments and subsequent apology of the Conservative candidate speak for themselves. We are focused on setting out our positive vision for change for the country and the constituency.”

Southend council Labour leader, Daniel Cowan said: “Broadly speaking the Conservatives haven’t covered themselves in glory on social media this weekend and they are giving residents a lot of reasons not to vote for them in the upcoming election.”

The other candidates Lee Clark (Confelicity), James Allen (Lib Dem), Simon Cross (Greens), Leslie Lilley (Reform UK), and Bianca Eleanor (Heritage).