Nigel Farage has defended a Ukip election candidate accused of making a Nazi salute, accepting the bizarre explanation that he was actually trying to stop his girlfriend taking photos of him "imitating a pot plant".
On Tuesday, 22-year-old Alex Wood, who is standing for a council seat in tomorrow's Somerset local elections, was shown in photos on Facebook raising his arm in the style of Hitler as well as clenching a knife between his teeth.
However Wood denied he was an extremist and said the photos had been taken out of context. He also said racist comments attributed to him on Facebook were a result of his page being hacked.
Writing for The Huffington Post UK today, Farage said he accepted Wood's defence. "I must confess, I nearly had kittens when I first saw this," he said.
"I’ve looked carefully into this and spoken to Alex, and I believe him when he says that he was angrily trying to take a camera off his girlfriend who was annoyingly taking pictures of him in the pub imitating a pot plant. These things happen - I should know!
"The fact that this is supported by the people who were with him that night suggests that he has been very unfairly treated."
Alex Wood makes a 'Nazi salute', or tries to grab his phone off a friend
As a poll showed Ukip had surged to 22% in the polls ahead of tomorrow local elections in England and Wales, the eurosceptic party's candidates have come under intense scrutiny.
Farage admitted that while "a handful of Ukip candidates have caused us embarrassment" others had "been quite unfairly traduced".
"After the election I will go into details of false allegations and the downright intimidation that has happened to some of our good people. All I can say is that this will put off many people from standing to serve their local communities in the future, which is not only a great shame but very harmful to real democracy when ordinary people are caught in the crossfire."
David Cameron once famously described the eurosceptic party as being made up of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". However this morning the prime minister rowed back from such harsh criticism, telling ITV he was "not calling anybody anything".
Over the weekend Ken Clarke slammed Ukip as being full of "fruitcakes, loonies, waifs and strays" and this morning William Hague said there was a "clown like aspect" to the party.
A rise in support for Ukip could cost the Tories dear in councils in their traditional home counties heartlands tomorrow. Tory MPs are also worried that sustained support for Farage's party could cost Cameron them next general election by splitting the right-wing vote.
The former Tory cabinet minister said there are county divisions in which voting Ukip will stop Labour taking seats. Farage said:"I would imagine that he received a wrap across the knuckles for that! Norman never disappoints."
He added: "I am also pleased to see Sushil Patel, the father of Priti Patel, is standing as a Ukip candidate in Hertfordshire."