VILLAGE leaders faced an angry backlash after they appeared to snub the Royal British Legion's Silent Soldier campaign.

Hundreds of people living in the Brockenhurst area signed an online petition following remarks made at a meeting of the local parish council.

Members were said to have rejected calls to display a Silent Soldier in the village because the outline included part of a rifle.

Now the man at the centre of the storm, Cllr Harry Oram, has issued a public apology over his comments.

He said: "I was mistaken in believing the parish council had specifically voted not to have a Silent Soldier due to the depiction of a gun.

"I offer a full and sincere apology to my fellow councillors, particularly the chairman, Pete Wales, and to the staff, who have received unjustified and unwarranted criticism and abuse.

"I also regret the potential economic effect my action may have on the village and Brockenhurst Business Association."

Cllr Wales added: "The parish council has not issued any ban on the display of Silent Soldiers and we very much welcome the one to be displayed by business association.

"This is a village noted for its strong military connections and we are proud to host the Tile Barn Centre, with its facilities for armed services personnel who have suffered in the service of our country.

"Cllr Oram is highly regarded in the local community and as such anything he says is taken seriously.

"I know Cllr Oram as a straightforward, honest person whom people like and trust. I therefore admire his public admission of his mistake and fully accept his apology."

The parish council found itself at the centre of a storm after district councillor Maureen Holding raised the issue at a meeting.

She wanted to know why Brockenhurst was not displaying any Silent Soldiers to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Last night Cllr Oram said he mentioned a meeting of the amenities sub-committee at which at least two members had "expressed reservations" about a figure with a rifle.

He mistakenly gave the impression that members had formally voted against having a Silent Soldier in the village, whereas the council had already agreed to set aside the necessary funds," he said.

"Instead of speaking directly to Cllr Holding I should have gone through the chair. That way the matter could have been discussed fully," added Cllr Oram.

"I am quite prepared to accept that it was my fault."