RIBBLE Valley Council's ruling Conservative group has been rocked by the loss of two councillors.

Alston and Hothersall ward's Jim Rogerson has resigned while Salthill's Ian Brown has been suspended.

Their departures recall the split in the authority's Tory group in 2018 when several councillors quit eventually leading to then council leader Ken Hind's resignation.

The news comes as the party seeks to defend three council bye-elections on May 6.

Cllr Brown was suspended by Ribble Valley Conservative Association for standing as an independent against official candidate Sue Hind, whose husband Ken is the party election agent, in the Lancashire County Council poll for Clitheroe Division on the same day.

He said: "I have no regrets. I have represented Clitheroe on the county council for eight years. The selection process was flawed."

Ribble Valley Conservative Association chairman Cllr David Peat said: "The rules are clear. You cannot stand against an official party candidate."

Cllr Rogerson said: "I have lost all respect for all politicians nationally including the Conservative ones."

Ribble Valley Conservative group leader Cllr Stephen Atkinson said: "It is sad to lose two such long-serving councillors."

His Liberal Democrat counterpart Cllr Allan Knox said: "This is further evidence of deep and long-standing divisions in the council Conservative group."

This reduces the Ribble Valley Council Tory group to 23 members with 10 LibDems and increases the number of Independents from two to four.

The three bye-elections are in Mellor, caused by the death of Noel Walsh; Billington and Langho after the passing of Ruth Baxter; and West Bradford and Grindleton following Tory colleague Bridget Hilton moving nearer her family.

Tory candidate Steve Farmer is taking on Labour and Green Party rivals in Billington and Langho; in Mellor the late Mr Walsh's brother Robin faces Labour, Green Party and Liberal Democrat candidates while in West Bradford and Grindleton local businessman Kevin Horkin has Labour and LibDem opponents.

Cllr Atkinson said: "We are fighting on our track record and the lowest council tax in Lancashire."

Cllr Knox said: "This is the chance for voters to give their opinion on the council and government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic."