AN INVESTIGATION has been launched by the local authority after a councillor sent an email alleging villagers had beaten up travellers in Pilning.

South Gloucestershire Councillor for Pilning and Severn Beach Robert Griffin allegedly sent an email describing how “a few marines and other soldiers on leave from Afghanistan and some of the rugby club", tried to set fire to members of the travelling community.

In the email he reportedly called these actions "very naughty" before writing: "The moral of this is – if the legal forces are frightened to carry out their responsibility, the community will sort it very quickly".

The Conservative councillor has since apologised for the language used in the email.

South Gloucestershire’s Conservative Group said in a statement: "The unacceptable language used by Councillor Griffin does not in any way condone unlawful activity in any form. This issue has become highly emotive amongst some members of the local community and, regrettably, Councillor Griffin's language reflected some of this local frustration.

"The Conservative Group wants to see local concerns addressed promptly and properly in relation to this matter to ensure peaceful relations between the settled and traveller community."

Avon and Somerset Police said the force was unaware of any incident.

A spokesman said: "We have not been made aware of any incidents such as those referred to and would expect the community or their elected representatives to inform us as a matter of urgency.

"Our neighbourhood officers have worked hard to build good relationships with both villagers and members of the travelling community.

"We are now contacting people living on and around the Bank Road site to see if any offences have gone unreported. We will thoroughly investigate any crimes disclosed."

Joseph Jones, a spokesman for the Gypsy Council, has blasted the email's worrying tone and the way Cllr Griffin seemed to be "condoning vigilantism".

A South Gloucestershire Council spokesman said: "We are working with the police to investigate the matter but our initial enquiries have provided no evidence that the alleged incident took place.

"However anyone with relevant information should notify their local police. The council has been asked to look into the email and we will follow our formal procedures for dealing with alleged breaches of councillors' code of conduct."