The UK Independence Party Watford mayoral candidate has taken down and handed in posters depicting the Prophet Muhammad to the police following a heated exchange over race at last night’s hustings debate.

Phil Cox was angered when Liberal Democrat mayor Dorothy Thornhill linked the rise of his party with growing anti-immigration sentiment and posters, which went up around West Watford at the weekend.

Mr Cox responded today saying the mayor was using the posters for “political ends”. He also said he had been round West Watford this morning and taken down the posters before handing them into the police.

The UKIP candidate said: “I think it was despicable of others on the stage to try to link these leaflets to UKIP standing in Watford.

"Any responsible person would have reported the issue to the police, not tried to make political capital out of it, yet that is exactly what some of the other candidates did, particularly I remember Dorothy linking them to UKIP standing in Watford for the first time at this Mayoral election.

“I and UKIP are disgusted by those who would seek to foment religious and racial hatred and those who would use such acts for political ends.”

A number of hand-drawn posters were put up around West Watford for “draw Muhammad day”. The posters carry a drawing of the Prophet with slogans such as “death to those who insult free speech”.

The posters are linked to a campaign that started in 2010 when an episode of the cartoon South Park was censored from depicting the Prophet.

At last night’s hustings Mayor Thornhill said she felt it was “no coincidence” the posters had appeared at the same time UKIP was on the rise in the town.

She said: “Be under no illusion, Watford would grind to a halt without the work that happens in our town through people who have come to our town from other countries. You only have to visit someone in a care home or walk through Watford General Hospital to know that.

“The person who is there (as mayor) has to have the credibility to stand up and be seen as somebody who would speak out against that and be the voice of minorities and to defend them.

"And I think it is no coincidence that at a time when we actually have a UKIP candidate standing for the election for the first time in a long time notes have gone up in West Watford that are specifically anti-Muslim.

“And what I am not saying is that that has been done by any UKIP supporter but what I am saying is I see it as it is almost permission to do that. That has not happened before and has happened this weekend."

Watford Observer:

Mayor Dorothy Thornhill.

Responding to the same question which prompted Mayor Thornhill’s comments at the hustings, Mr Cox said: “UKIP is not a racist party. I used to be in the Labour party and in those days I fought racism. I saved someone from being abused on a train in France from a bunch of foreign legionnaires.

"So I am not a racist and I find it offensive when someone calls me a racist or my party a racist.”