A UK Independence Party election candidate in Worcester has published a doctored image of himself on the internet standing behind Adolf Hitler.
Richard Delingpole, who is standing for county council election in the Riverside ward, posted the image on Twitter.
One political rival has branded the picture “sickening and abhorrent”.
But the businessman, of Henwick Road, St John’s, has insisted the image was a joke in response to reports that the Conservative party is trawling social networking sites looking for dirt on UKIP candidates.
The picture shows Adolf Hitler, with three henchmen standing behind him, all of whom have had their faces changed to a youthful looking Mr Delingpole.
Yesterday UKIP’s Worcester branch apologised, blaming a “very deep sense of humour” which could be misunderstood.
Carl Humphries, the branch organiser for Worcester and Mid-Worcestershire, said he would not be thrown out of the party.
“I can assure you he is definitely not a Nazi or anything like that - he’s got a very deep sense of humour,” he said.
“He has been vetted by me, all our candidates are clean in every respect, but I am sorry if this offended people.”
Mr Delingpole, who runs a design agency, has now deleted the picture.
“There’s a story going around that the Tories are trawling Facebook accounts of UKIP candidates to drag up things about them, this was a joke based on that,” he said.
“Of course people won’t think I’m an Adolf Hitler sympathiser, to suggest otherwise is disingenuous.
“It’s clearly a picture of Adolf Hitler I have photo-shopped, it shows we’ve got a sense of humour.”
Mr Delingpole, who is a war re-enactor, said the image first appeared on his Facebook page some time ago after a friend joked that he was a Nazi.
He posted it on Twitter yesterday morning with the caption: “I really must get rid of some of these old Facebook images before the Tories get hold of them” before deleting it.
But the image was seen by a Conservative councillor in another part of the country, who tipped off colleagues in Worcestershire.
Yesterday Coun Simon Geraghty, who is standing for the Conservative party in Riverside, said: “I find it absolutely sickening and abhorrent.
“I think the vast majority of British people will find this shocking - it’s not funny at all, it’s dreadful and I can’t believe he’s done it.”
UKIP is fielding 1,734 candidates in tomorrow’s council elections, but over the last few days it has been forced to suspend three candidates - one for being an ex-BNP activist, another for “liking” the extremist English Defence League on Facebook, and the third for being a former National Front Organiser.
Yesterday, a spokesman from UKIP’s national HQ in London said: “Richard Delingpole‘s not dodgy in any way - he did it because he’s fed up of people being professionally outraged.”
Meanwhile, UKIP leader Nigel Farage has waded into the controversy today, by saying it was "a joke" in the wake of yesterday's coverage of rotten UKIP candidates in the Daily Mirror.
He said: "To present it as anything else would be a travesty."
In today's Sun newspaper another UKIP candidate, Bradley Monk, aged 19, who is standing at Hampshire County Council, was outed for posting snaps of himself online as shamed pervert Jimmy Savile.
He wore a mask of the disgraced paedophile at a Halloween party last year.
He said it was a "harmless joke" and added he was "in no way endorsing" what Savile did.
Mr Farage has admitted the party is too small to properly vet the record number of council candidates standing in the elections.
* The other candidates in Riverside are Labour’s Lynn Denham, Green Louis Stephen, Sean McCauley for Trades Unionists and Socialists Against the Cuts and Julie Whitwam for the BNP.