A CONSERVATIVE candidate in the Worcester city council elections has plunged her party into chaos by secretly joining the UK Independence Party.

Melanie Heider, a German national, is standing in the Arboretum ward - the most marginal seat in Worcester.

But unknown to Tory bosses, she joined UKIP seven weeks ago.

The shock revelation - which the Worcester News broke to the Tory party yesterday - has thrown the group's election campaign into confusion.

It will come as a particularly heavy blow to the Conservative Party, which is so keen to win the seat it has asked city councillors to dip into their own pockets to fund Miss Heider's campaign.

The party has insisted she is unlikely to be sacked, but is currently investigating whether she breached any rules.

It is too late for the Conservative Party to stand another candidate in the ward because nomination papers have already been signed.

When confronted by the Worcester News, Miss Heider initially denied being a UKIP member, but she was later forced to come clean and later resigned from UKIP.

It is not the first time Miss Heider has attempted to join the city council. Last year she was the Tory candidate for St John's ward, but failed to win.

Miss Heider moved to the UK from Germany in 1986 and has lived in Worcester since 1997. She used to run a business in Tewkesbury, selling fine chocolate, but is now a University of Worcester student, studying for a degree in social welfare and psychology.

She said: "I joined UKIP because I was interested in what their policies were and wanted to find out more about them.

"I am not happy this has come out and want to say my allegiance is with the Conservative Party.

"I am working very hard to get elected in Arboretum and want to stand for the ward as a Conservative candidate.

"I don't think UKIP and the Conservatives contradict each other in a huge way."

Matt Edmonds, of Worcester Conservative Association, said the branch will investigate to see if she breached party rules.

He said: "I need to look into our rules and speak with Melanie, but as far as I'm concerned, she's a committed Conservative."

UKIP was formed in 1993 and is committed to withdrawing Britain from the European Union.

Richard Chamings, chair of the Worcester UKIP branch, said: "I didn't know she was standing as a Conservative candidate until I read the election coverage in the Worcester News. It was a real surprise to see her name and picture in the paper."

But Miss Heider has been condemned by rival politicians in Worcester, who have accused her of swindling voters.

Worcester MP Mike Foster said: "This whole thing is totally bizarre. The credibility of Miss Heider, and those who nominated her, has been sorely lacking."

Arboretum is the tightest ward in the city, with the Labour group currently holding a majority of just 37.

As the Worcester News reported in March, each Tory councillor agreed to cough up £60 of their own money to help the party campaign for the ward.

The seat is currently held by Labour councillor Richard Bird, but he is stepping down at this election and is not standing on Thursday.

UKIP already has a candidate for the Arboretum ward - Jason Phillips. The seat is also being contested by Marc Bayliss (Labour), Ken Carpenter (Liberal Democrat) and Martin Sullivan (Green Party).