AN INVESTIGATION has been launched into racist and homophobic comments allegedly made online by an Oxford UK Independence Party (UKIP) parliamentary candidate.

Pressure group Hope Not Hate claimed Alan Harris, the UKIP prospective parliamentary candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon, posted the messages on Facebook between 2011 and 2013.

Last night the political party said it was investigating the claims, while Mr Harris, 47, declined to comment.

It is understood he has not been suspended and will continue to run for office, pending the outcome of the investigation.

He reportedly told the Independent he was "absolutely disgusted" and that his Facebook account had been hacked, but later denied giving a statement to the paper.

The party's Oxfordshire organiser Dickie Bird, who is alleged to have been sent one of the offensive messages, also denied receiving it.

The pictures published yesterday by Hope Not Hate appeared to show posts on Facebook under the name Alan Paul Harris, with a picture of the parliamentary candidate.

One of the posts, allegedly made on October 8 2011, said: “Why cant [sic] I say in my own bloody country black is still a colour and gay [sic] are still queers.”

Another, supposedly sent to Mr Bird on February 1 2013, said: "A bacon sandwich - a piece of English heritage the f****** Muslims don't want."

Mr Bird said he was "shocked" by the claims and questioned their authenticity.

He said: "Without a shadow of a doubt, I will be looking into this urgently.

"I am a close personal friend of Alan and can say this is not language he uses.

"I have not seen him post those sorts of words on Facebook, so I am shocked that he is being associated with them."

He added: "As far as I am aware I have never received a message like that from Alan.

"I do not know where they [Hope Not Hate] are getting this from, it's really depressing."

Mr Harris' wife Toni also responded to comments made by other users about her husband on Hope Not Hate's Facebook page.

She wrote: "You all jump on the bandwagon, just like a flock of sheep. Remember there is [sic] always two sides to a story.

"What happen [sic] to innocent until proven guilty."

A spokesman for UKIP confirmed its candidates department was now looking into the claims and added: "We are concerned that the material published by the Hope Not Hate campaign may not stand up to scrutiny."

The author of the claims against him, Hope Not Hate researcher Simon Cressy, said he obtained pictures of the alleged Facebook posts after befriending Mr Harris on the social network under a false name more than a year ago.

He said his group was monitoring UKIP parliamentary candidates nationwide and that he planned to release information about others in the UK this week.

He added: "He befriended me and I searched through his profile from when it was created. This is what they do: they say they have been hacked and then take their profiles down."

He added: "UKIP has come to the fore in the past few years and, although we are not saying it is a racist party, there are a lot of people in it who are racists."

Mr Harris' rival parliamentary candidates for Oxford West and Abingdon described the alleged Facebook posts as "abhorrent" and "unacceptable".

Conservative Nicola Blackwood, who has just finished a five-year term as constituency MP, said: "These comments are abhorrent. If the UKIP candidate did indeed make them, he should first apologise and then resign immediately."

Labour candidate Sally Copley said she would be “surprised if his name appears on the ballot paper for UKIP come the election” if the accusations were true and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran said: “Language like that is abhorrent and has no place in civilised society."

Dr Helen Salisbury, who is contesting the seat for the National Health Action Party, added they were "unacceptable expressions".

Oxford Imam Dr Hojjat Ramzy said: “Any person who goes against Islam and integration is totally wrong."

Father-of-four Mr Harris lives in Upper Heyford with his wife.

He joined UKIP in 2013 and was elected Oxford West and Abingdon chairman the following year.

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