THE leader of Lewisham's Liberal Democrats has spoken of his relief after he was cleared of libelling a British National Party (BNP) candidate.

Councillor Mark Morris was sued by rival Tess Culnane, after she claimed his party published a malicious election leaflet.

But last week a High Court jury found the leaflet was not libellous and ordered Mrs Culnane to pay more than £100,000 in costs.

Cllr Morris said: "I'm totally relived.

"This has been hanging over me for two years and it is not a very pleasant process going through the courts.

"We were trying to highlight that far from being a respectable political party, there are some unsavoury people within the BNP.

"It was an ill-founded claim and I'm pleased the jury has vindicated me."

The leaflet was distributed by the Lib Dems before the November 2002 Downham ward by-election, which was won by Cllr Morris.

Titled Don't Be Fooled By The BNP, it alleged several leading figures within the far-right party have criminal convictions.

It also asked whether "this was the kind of person you want as your elected councillor?".

Mrs Culnane claimed this was an attack on her, however, the jury cleared Cllr Morris and his election agent Vijay Naidu.

It agreed the article referred to her but ruled it was on a matter of public interest.

The BNP claim it did not encourage Mrs Culnane to go to the courts and says she is no longer a member of the party.

BNP spokesman Phil Edwards added: "The antics of the left are so negative.

"In a way it flatters us they daren't challenge us on our policies.

"They are responsible for this personal silliness."