A FORMER council chairman and church leader has quit the Lib Dems - to become an activist for the British National Party.

The Rev John Stanton, who was elected Lib Dem chairman of Rochford District Council in 1997, is now the far-right party's organiser for the Rochford district.

Mr Stanton, 75, heads Rock Dene Christian Fellowship, a "house church", based in his home in Leicester Avenue, Rochford.

He said: "I had to quit the Lib Dems because of their complete and idiotic dedication to staying in Europe.

"I think being part of Europe is a total disaster.

"I flirted with joining the UK Independence Party, but the BNP is the only one putting forward theories I agree with."

He said the BNP had recently set up a Rochford district branch and planned to field a candidate in Hullbridge this May - BNP member Bob Green, who stood last year and came second.

The party is said to also be considering putting up a candidate in Hockley and three or four in Southend.

Council leader and head of Rochford's Tory group, Terry Cutmore, said he was "surprised and disappointed" Mr Stanton had joined the BNP.

He said: "As a man of the cloth, I would have thought his sympathies would have lain elsewhere."

Rochford's Lib Dem leader Chris Black added: "He's a priest, but I really don't see Jesus voting for the BNP.

"The local elections are about local issues and getting things done and I can't think of one concrete thing the BNP has achieved in 40 or so councils across the UK."

Mr Stanton spent four years as a Lib Dem councillor in Rochford in the Nineties, having been a Tory councillor five years in the Seventies.

He said he saw no conflict between his Christian beliefs and his politics.

He said: "The BNP is very Christian-based and it gets very frustrated at the way Christianity is side-lined.

"If we can influence the main political parties with our views, then we have done enough.

"We are putting as many candidates across the country as we can and Rochford is one of the areas we are looking at."