The Conservative party has defended its candidate’s decision not to attend a hustings event ahead of a council by-election, after an opponent branded his absence “disrespectful”.

Paul Plummer, who is standing in the Mattishall ward by-election on Breckland Council, decided not to attend a debate to which he had been invited, which went ahead without him on Wednesday (May 18) evening.

Instead of participating in the debate, Mr Plummer chose to canvas voters a couple of miles away in Yaxham, leaving his opponents, independent candidate Maggie Oechsle and Labour’s Kendra Cogman, to field questions from voters.

Ms Oechsle said: "If he was a serious candidate he would have been at the only hustings of the campaign.

“It was disrespectful to the other candidates, the public who attended and also to Mattishall Parish Council who had arranged it.

“Maybe he shied away from the prospect of difficult questions from the public about the current state of the Conservative party."

Approached for comment, Mr Plummer’s election agent, Dr Christopher Kemp, said: “Hustings are one of a number of ways of informing the public about the issues that they are going to be asked to decide when they go to vote in this election.

“There are other ways of doing that: knocking on doors, distributing election literature, social media content, broadcasting material.

“Paul had decided - before he received the invitation, which was unsigned, in an envelope that was delivered to him on Saturday morning - that he wanted to go around a number of the villages in the ward and knock on doors.

“My colleague, who was at the meeting, tells me there were 21 people.

"Well I can tell you that Paul and his team spoke to more than 21 people on Wednesday, so I think in terms of effectiveness, his choice to stick to his programme of evening canvassing sessions, was correct.”

He added: “This is a local election and people should set aside any feelings about what’s going on in Westminster, where there’s fault on all sides and concentrate on the local issues and who is going to be the best person to represent them on Breckland Council.”

Labour candidate Kendra Cogman said she was "very pleased to be able to attend the hustings" and that it was "great to meet the group of residents".

The election is on Thursday, June 9.