A quaint village is in turmoil after a BNP bid to join the local parish council.

Next month three candidates will battle it out at the polls for the vacant seat on Upper Beeding Parish Council after a British National Party member forced an election.

Councillors fear that Donna Bailey, an unsuccessful BNP candidate in last year's Horsham District Council elections and a contender for the Upper Beeding poll, could win the seat.

Senior members tonight said they were concerned that is she was elected it would associate the village of 1200 homes, near Steyning, with an "abhorrent" party.

Parish councillor Bob Harber said: "I think someone who has the public face of the BNP is not someone that we want to represent our village community.

"People will lose trust in the council if she gets in. It's fair to say it will certainly split the council."

Mother of three Donna Bailey has lived in the village for four years.

When a seat became available on the parish council last year she made a requests to be co-opted on but these were turned down. She reported three councillors to the standards board for the way she was treated but they were later exonerated.

Mrs Bailey then turned up to a parish council meeting in December with 23 supporters requesting she be co-opted.

Coun Harber said: "I've never seen anything like that in village meetings.

"The atmosphere really soured and it was quite threatening."

After councillors rejected her argument for being co-opted onto the council a second time, Mrs Bailey petitioned for the poll, which is likely to cost the parish's 3,700-strong electorate about £3,500.

Simon Birnstingl, the vice chairman of the council, said: "I can't speak for the council because we're not party political, which is a tradition north of the Downs.

"What's agreed by councillors is that party politics doesn't enter the council unless elections are coming along. But I find the BNP an abhorrent political organisation and I dislike what they stand for.

"If you look at their manifesto they'll jump on any band wagon to get a stronger power base and then implement their horrible racist, hate-fuelled politics.

"And to me this is the worry. They're about hating your neighbour, rather than loving them.

"Upper Beeding is a lovely place to live in. People smile and say hello to each other when they walk past.

"It's already split the village. I thought long and hard about blowing the whistle on the fact she was a member of the BNP because I recognised her from a previous election."

Mrs Bailey defended her corner and said she was not trying to infiltrate the parish council for the BNP.

She said: "I have chosen to stand because I want to make this village a better place to live in.

"At the end of the day people have a choice. They will look at my leaflet and put their vote in the ballot box. That's how it should be in this country."

Mrs Bailey, who runs her own beauty and holistic therapy business from home, said she felt she was being intimidated by a minority on the council because she was prepared to question their decisions.

She said: "There's a very small number of people who have grouped together and orchestrated a campaign against me going back to May last year.

"It has less to do with party politics and more about the fact I might try and change things.

"I can make a contribution and I love the work I do.

"I'm not racist or homophobic. I'm just a normal person with normal concerns about the environment we live in."

Mrs Bailey is a member of the village's youth council and does fundraising work at the primary school.

A poll will be held in Upper Beeding on February 7.