A former Tory councillor who branded all gay people paedophiles has had his conviction for the public order offence quashed.

Peter Willows was forced to resign as a Brighton and Hove councillor following a storm of protest over the remarks he made at a council mayor-making reception in May 2006.

The 76-year-old had made the comments to fellow councillor Paul Elgood and James Ledward, the editor of the city's gay G-Scene magazine, at the invitation-only event.

He was reported to the council's standards board and the police.

A decision was taken to prosecute him under Section Five of the Public Order Act and he was later convicted of using abusive or insulting words likely to cause alarm or distress.

But Mr Willows today won an appeal against his conviction and the conditional discharge imposed by Brighton and Hove magistrates in December 2006.

Recorder Ann Arnold said she was concerned about the decision by police to prosecute Mr Willows and not to offer him a caution for a first offence.

Detective Constable Janice Dempsey had told the court the decision to prosecute him was taken by senior officers before Mr Willows had been interviewed.

Recorder Arnold said: "We are troubled by what we heard from DC Dempsey.

"It was not her decision but a decision had been made before Mr Willows was interviewed that he was to be reported for summons.

"For a decision to be taken before a suspect has been interviewed as to how the case should be pursued shows that minds had been closed too early in the decision making process."

She said his previous good character made it less likely that he had intended to commit an offence.

She added: "We are sure that the response to Mr Ledward was made without denial by Mr Willows of the earlier comment that all gays are paedophiles.

"That response was insulting when made in the presence of a gay man in front of another gay man, or anyone likely to be caused distress by such comments.

"We are equally sure that Mr Willows, a straightforward man of 76 years, did not intend his remarks to be insulting."

The decision sparked more protest from political figures and the city's lesbian and gay community.

The former Hangleton councillor said his political and charity work had been ruined by the conviction.

He had been forced to resign as a councillor and step down from his charity work.

After winning his appeal at Hove Crown Court today he said his political career was over.

He said: "I am going to retire now and will never stand as a councillor again.

"I am very pleased with the decision. The two people who took me to court were wrong to do that.

"I knew at the end of the day that justice would prevail and it has prevailed today."

He was cheered by supporters who included Hangleton Tory councillor Dawn Barnett.

She called on Coun Elgood, a Liberal Democrat member, to quit following the appeal decision.

Coun Barnett said: "Peter was forced to step down as a result of this prosecution being brought.

"The councillor behind the move to prosecute Peter should now do the honourable thing and also resign."

But Coun Elgood said: "There is no question of my resigning.

"It was his own party that pushed him into resigning in the first place. I never called for that.

"He was found guilty of making the remarks by the magistrates and I hoped that would have been upheld."

Former Brighton and Hove City Council leader Simon Burgess added: "I am appalled at the decision.

"This was not the first time Peter Willows has made inappropriate comments.

"He has a record of writing to The Argus making remarks about the gay and lesbian community.

"He was in a position of responsibility at a public function when he made those remarks.

"I am just pleased that there is legislation coming in that makes in an offence to make such comments, in the same was as it is an offence to make racist remarks."

Speaking after the verdict Mr Ledward said: "I am very disappointed.

"This was a clear case of incitement to hatred.

"Peter Willows never denied saying that all gays are paedophiles.

"This decision sends out a very negative signal for those who think they can speak about the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community in Brighton in this way."