The full bitter story behind the defection of three Labour members to the ruling Independent Group can be revealed today.

The Western Telegraph has learned that legal advice has been sought over a "vitriolic" e-mail sent by Labour group leader Sue Perkins to Cllr Ken Rowlands.

The e-mail - sent on April 6th - followed Cllr Rowlands' decision to stand as an independent rather than a Labour candidate at the recent council elections.

Labelling Cllrs Rowlands, Umelda Havard and Lyndon Frayling as "co-conspirators," Cllr Perkins accused them of pretending to be Labour candidates and misleading voters.

The e-mail also suggests that a secret deal had been struck.

Cllr Perkins wrote: "At the moment I would be happy never to speak to you again.

"You made the judgement that you are more important than the voters and that is pure arrogance."

Addressing Cllr Rowlands, she wrote: "I believed that as a man of the cloth' - a lay preacher who from the pulpit talks of faith, loyalty and trust - that you would practise what you preach."

It adds: "I hope you are happy with your 30 pieces of silver."

Cllr Rowlands - who was re-elected with a 301 majority - described the e-mail as "vitrolic, offensive and smacking of political paranoia."

He said he had obtained legal advice about the full contents and added: "My solicitor has since advised that it is actionable."

A complaint to the council monitoring officer is also being considered.

But prior to Thursday's annual council meeting, Cllr Perkins went on the attack again. She said: "By joining the Independent Group and taking a lucrative £26,000 Cabinet post, Cllr Rowlands and his two co-defectors have excluded themselves from the Labour Party.

"The real losers in this shabby affair are the voters who were denied the chance to vote Labour. For the three councillors concerned to mislead the electors was reprehensible and will not be forgotten."

* Cllr Rowlands stood as an independent because he had been badly let down by Labour over promised work to his Johnston constituency, he said this week.

Cllr Rowlands issued a strong denial that he had misled the electors and said the cabinet post offer came out of the blue after the election.

His election leaflet read: "The only course of action left to me as your county councillor is to stand four square with the village and contest this election as Ken Rowlands, of Johnston."

He told the Western Telegraph: "My decision to stand in my own name was made clear to my electorate, having discussed matters with members of the Labour Party within my village, all of whom understood and agreed with my action and supported me.

"My election leaflet made clear my situation, and, because of my closeness within the community, I stood by them in protest against the inexplicable decision to abandon the Bulford Road Project.

"The cabinet offer came after the election and after I had signed my group papers."

Cllr Rowlands added: "It is perfectly understandable that Cllr Sue Perkins would feel bitter since she no longer has the kudos of being the leader of the official opposition, and in view of the loss of the allowance that goes with such a post."

In a statement, Cllrs Havard and Frayling said: "We were clear in our conviction that our views and the subsequent representation of our wards should not be tailored to comply with pre-judged party line."