A DISTRICT and town councillor has apologised for comments made about the suicide of a former soldier and gamekeeper, but has said he will not resign over the matter.

Tommy Woodward, an animal rights campaigner, posted on the Hunt Saboteurs Association Facebook page that the death of Alan Ellis, from Bacup in Lancashire, was the “best use of a gun I can think of”.

He went on to say: “I don’t think anyone thinks it’s a good thing. We would all rather live in a world where no one kills for fun. However, if you choose to own a gun and kill for pleasure, then it’s best to kill yourself.”

Mr Ellis, 50, a former Scot’s Guard, shot himself in August, after learning he was to be sued over a £40,000 debt.

Coun Woodward said he would not be resigning from his positions on Ryedale district and Pickering town councils.

“Regarding the question of an apology, I have already apologised to the widow, family and friends of Mr Ellis, because I certainly never intended to upset a grieving family,” he said. “Many readers will be unaware that my young brother was a serving Military Policeman when he was killed. One of his officers, the man who helped our family cope with the grief, committed suicide in Afghanistan.

“As a district councillor I moved an amendment to the Ryedale Plan to make it possible for ex-service personnel, returning to Ryedale, to qualify for affordable and local needs housing. It passed with unanimous support.

“So why did my comments alone from that site get brought to the attention of the national media? Was it because I have campaigned for animal rights for more than 25 years? Joining demonstrations against vivisection, live exports, shooting and hunting and in that time I have never been arrested or questioned by the police.”

Coun Woodward said he was attacked earlier this year while monitoring a local hunt. He said: “In the past couple of months I have gathered evidence that has led to two ongoing police investigations against one local hunt.

“Finally, I must once again underline that I deeply regret if I have added to the grief and sorrow of the widow, family and friends of Mr Ellis.”

Councillor Linda Cowling, leader of the district council, said the council had received complaints about the comments and there would be an investigation.

She said: “The problem for the council is that it was done in a private capacity and not as a councillor. But it raises the question of whether someone with such strongly-held views is suitable to be a councillor when they put their beliefs before decision-making,” she said. There’s very little other than the ballot box that can remove him from his role as councillor. But I do not condone anything he has done – it must be terrible for Mr Ellis’ family.”

Richard Ali, chief executive of the British Assocation for Shooting and Conservation, said: “Mocking the suicide of anyone is absolutely unacceptable and stating that lawful gun owners should ‘kill themselves’ is despicable behaviour. This man is not fit to hold a public office.

“We know from past actions that animal rights extremists will stop at nothing in their hatred of anyone involved in lawful shooting activities. These Facebook comments show their true colours.”