A vicar who quit Labour over the war with Iraq cost the party a seat by standing against them in Crawley's local elections.

It was no surprise that Labour kept its strong grip on the town last night.

But there were also red faces in the Labour camp when members realised they had lost the Southgate ward to the Conservatives because of the Reverend Malcolm Liles, who left in March and managed to split the vote in Southgate by standing for the Green Party.

He collected 276 votes, beating Liberal Democrat candidate Roger McMurray, who received 207 votes.

This left Conservative Lisa Noel with 404 votes - beating Labour's Mohammed Qarmaruddin by just three.

After a recount, an emotional Mr Qarmaruddin, who is a former mayor of Crawley, said he could not believe the seat had fallen to the Tories.

He said: "I feel very sad, which is the natural reaction to losing a seat. I was expecting to win the seat. Crawley has always shown strong support for Labour. But that's politics I suppose. I wish the winner the best of luck."

Mr Liles, the only Green candidate, said: "People need to realise the bankruptcy of the main parties. There's barely any daylight between them.

"I'm pleased with the way the night went, although I would obviously have preferred a few more votes."

Southgate was one of 12 seats - a third of Crawley Borough Council - up for grabs by 40 candidates.

Labour took seven seats, the Tories four and the Liberal Democrats one.

The BNP got 404 votes, putting them bottom of the pile beneath the three main parties. Turnout was 23 per cent.

Labour leader Chris Redmayne said: "It's a very good result for Labour. We have held all our seats but one, and that was because the vote was split by a Labour defector."

Conservative leader Richard Burrett said he was thrilled at the win in Southgate.

He said: "The circumstances were different because of the Green vote but it's absolutely fantastic to gain the seat."

Before the election the make-up of the 32-seat council was 21 Labour, six Conservative, two Liberal Democrat, one Independent and two vacancies.

It has now 22 Labour, eight Conservatives and two Liberal Democrats.

RESULTS (* denotes sitting councillor)

BROADFIELD: Elected - James McGough (L)* 569. Not elected - David Bowen (C) 335, Clare Jeffers (LD) 209.

FURNACE GREEN: Elected - Duncan Crow (C) 1,130. Not elected - David Barry (LD) 636. Raymond Calcott (L) 741. Vernon Atkinson (British National Party) 404.

GOSSOPS GREEN: Elected - William Ward (L)* 430. Not elected - Lee Burke (C) 317, Howard Llewelyn (LD) 176.

IFIELD: Elected - John Stanley (L) 536. Not elected - Brian Blake (C) 342, Richard Symonds (I) 235, Barry Hamilton (LD) 213.

LANGLEY GREEN: Elected - James Smith (L)* 666, David Shreeves (L) 619. Not elected - Kevin Osborne (LD) 254, Keith Brockwell (C) 253, Christina Belben (C) 248, Mohammed Rana (LD) 221.

NORTHGATE: Elected - Gordon Seekings (LD)* 610. Not elected - Nicholas Webber (L) 225, Corinne Bowen (C) 104.

POUND HILL NORTH: Elected - Sarah Blake (C)* 831. Not elected - John Stephens (L) 303, Nigel Aldridge (LD) 230.

POUND HILL SOUTH: Elected - Robert Lanzer (C)* 847. Not elected - Alison Cornell (L) 383, Edward Reay (LD) 253.

SOUTHGATE: Elected - Lisa Noel (C) 404. Not elected - Mohammed Qamaruddin (L)* 401, Malcolm Liles (G) 276, Roger McMurray (LD) 207.

THREE BRIDGES: Elected - Dennis Malt (L)* 468. Not elected - John Rolf (C) 372. Not elected - Victoria Seekings (LD) 268.

TILGATE: Elected - Douglas Mayne (L)* 522. Not elected - Alexander Maple (C) 247, Darren Wise (LD) 206, Derek Isaacs (Socialist Labour) 76.