The Liberal Democrats are celebrating a shock result in Horsham which has left the town with a hung council.

The ruling Conservatives - who went into the election with a clear majority and 24 councillors - were expected to romp home.

But at the death, the result could not have been closer. It went down to a recount for the last ward and just two votes kept the Tories from retaining power.

With an average turnout of 33.9 per cent, the Conservatives won 22 seats, the Liberal Democrats won 20 and the Independents chipped in with two to give Horsham a new council with no overall control.

But the biggest shock of a dismal night for the Tories came with the ousting of Horsham's first citizen, council chairman John Wardropper Charles.

He lost his seat after eight years as a member for Denne Ward and blamed the boundary changes for losing him a third of his voters.

But the postal manager for the Royal Mail in Dorking vowed: "I will be back!"

Council leader Liz Kitchen was quick to admit the Horsham result was a shock. She said: "We certainly weren't expecting a hung council."

But she drew attention to attention to what she called "dirty tricks" in Southwater ward.

She said: "I was appalled by events there, where a car was left outside the polling station with notices advising the electorate not to vote for the Conservative Candidate. It had no real effect but I was disgusted by this conduct."

She laid the blame for the Tories' performance squarely at the door of imposed taxation: "We have suffered from council tax - not ours - and from perceptions of stealth tax."

The Liberal Democrats gained six seats overall, two from the Tories, three from the Independents and one from increased boundaries.

Lib Dem leader Len Crosbie said: "It is a great night for us locally and something we have worked hard for."

RESULTS (* denotes sitting councillor)

BILLINGSHURST AND SHIPLEY: Elected - Sheila Van Den Bergh (C) 830, Gordon Lindsay (C) 751, Geoffrey Lawes (LD)* 736. Not elected - David Fisher (C) 734, Ann Rodwell (LD) 710, John Griffin (LD) 604, Douglas Rands (I) 500, Sally Morton (L) 197.

BRAMBER, UPPER BEEDING AND WOODMANCOTE: Elected - Alan Fisher (C) 643, John Hewitt (LD) 640. Not elected - John Peake (C) 615, Stephanie Shorey (LD) 609, Michael Neves (L) 108, Estelle Hilditch (L) 105.

BROADBRIDGE HEATH: Elected - Sally Horner (LD)* 315. Not elected - Peter Catchpole (C) 253, Richard Wilson (L) 148.

CHANCTONBURY: Elected - Alan Harris (C)* 1,521, Michael Jackson (C)* 1,501, Eric Jenkins (C)* 1,410. Not elected - James Glasse (I) 517, Alan Sugarman (LD) 400, Stephen Holbrook (LD) 388, Alan Hughes (LD) 387.

CHANTRY: Elected - Janet Tatum (C) 1,486, Keith Ballard (C) 1,432, Neil Butler (C)* 1,406. Not elected - Douglas Banks (LD)* 1,188, Maureen Girard (LD) 996, Arthur Sullivan (LD) 906.

COWFOLD, SHERMANBURY AND WEST GRINSTEAD: Elected - Bernard Baldwin (C)* 863, Leonora Harries (C) 746. Not elected - Piers Pollard (LD) 262, Laurence Price (LD) 248, Josephine Battersby (L) 129.

DENNE: Elected - David Sheldon (LD) 703, William Parsonson (LD) 631. Not elected - Peter Tobutt (C)* 600, John Charles (C)* 579, Terence Parker (L) 123 FOREST: Elected - David Newman (LD)* 742. Not elected - Evelyn Mauchel (C) 458. Louise Skipton-Carter (L) 58.

HENFIELD: Elected - Sheila Matthews (I)* 925, Adam Reeves (C) 706. Not elected - David Howard (LD) 229, Thomas Pearce (LD) 199.

HOLBROOK EAST: Elected - Andrew Baldwin (C) 659, Anthony Millson (LD) 657. Not elected - Maria Bell (C) 523, Sheila Dale (LD) 483, James Rae (I) 201, Kathleen Goddard (L) 108.

HOLBROOK WEST: Elected - Robert Nye (C)* 657, Christian Mitchell (C) 641. Not elected - Jacqueline Powell (LD) 637, Anthony Hull (LD) 618, Peter Burgess (I) 238, Raymond Chapman (L) 139.

HORSHAM PARK: Elected - Pamela Clarke (LD)* 983, David Holmes (LD) 943, Peter Mullarky (LD)* 915. Not elected - Clive Burgess (I) 494, Derek Bradnum (C) 398, Nathanael Johansen-Allison (C) 379, Elizabeth Ostacchini (C) 351, Charlotte Morrissey (L) 197.

ITCHINGTON, SLINFOLD AND WARNHAM: Elected - Jean Burnham (C)* 908, Michael Dalrymple (LD) 902. Not elected - Claire Vickers (C)* 869, David Wright (LD)* 810.

NUTHURST: Elected - John Cox (C) 610. Not elected - Nigel Sloan (LD) 230.

PULBOROUGH AND COLDWALTHAM: Elected - Brian Donnelly (C) 927, Roger Paterson (C)* 923. Not elected - Anthony Girard (LD) 310, Rosalyn Deedman (LD) 291.

ROFFEY NORTH: Elected - Barbara Price (LD)* 784, Jacobus Clausen (LD) 743. Not elected - Frank King (C) 642, Simon Torn (C) 629, Florence Paffett (I)* 174, Matthew Stanley (L) 159, Margaret Deane (I) 152.

ROFFEY SOUTH: Elected - Pat Rutherford (LD)* 664, Roger Wilton (LD) 568. Not elected - Andrew Strang (C) 364, Jonathan Vickers (C) 326, Peter Paffett (I)* 237, Keith Maslin (L) 97.

RUDGWICK: Elected - John Bailey (C) 428. Not elected - Michael Hendy (LD) 183.

RUSPER AND COLGATE: Elected - Elizabeth Kitchen (C)* 463. Not elected - Derek Brundish (LD) 135.

SOUTHWATER: Elected - Peter Stainton (LD) 1,232, Julia Stainton (LD) 1,227, Barbara Varley (LD) 1,205. Not elected - Ian Howard (C)* 966, Simon Hawkins (C) 971, Graham Dye (C)* 938, Christine Conibear (L) 179.

STEYNING: Elected - George Cockman (I)* 1,124, Margaret Lyth (C)* 890. Not elected - Susan Stokes (LD) 624, Michael Twell (LD) 433, Valerie Neves (L) 131, Peter Hilditch (L) 118, Lindsay Jupp (UKIP) 112.

TRAFALGAR: Elected - Christine Costin (LD)* 1,170, Leonard Crosbie (LD)* 1,069. Not elected - Vivienne Tobutt (C) 670, Ian Strang (C) 598, Elved Mainwaring (L) 168.