MIRANDA Grell has been found guilty of falsely claiming her gay election rival was a paedophile during last year's local election campaign.

The 29-year-old was convicted on two counts under the Representation of the People Act and is automatically disqualified from holding office, prompting a by-election.

District Judge John Woollard said he had no reason to doubt the testimony of two witnesses, Kevin Sorkin and his ex-partner Naomi Robinson, who claimed Grell told them former Liberal Democrat councillor Barry Smith has a sexual interest in young Thai boys.

He also described Caroline Dargan, who told Waltham Forest Magistrates Court that Ms Grell made similar claims during a visit to her home, as a "very credible witness".

Judge Woollard highlighted Grell's admission during a police interview that she had told Mr Sorkin that Mr Smith is gay and falsely stated he has a 19-year-old Thai boyfriend.

He said the words she confessed to using bore a "striking resemblance" to the claims made by four witnesses.

Despite admitting she was an impressive young lady who had carved out a remarkable career for herself, Judge Woollard rejected Grell's claim that she was the victim of a conspiracy hatched by her political rivals in revenge for the loss of the previously safe seat.

He said there was no evidence Mr Smith, local Liberal Democrat councillors and the five witnesses who testified against her plotted her downfall.

Fining her £1,000 with £3,000 costs, Judge Woollard admitted the verdict spelled the end of the popular representative's promising political career.

Grell is the first person to be convicted for making false statements against an election rival under the 1983 act.

Speaking outside court on behalf of Mr Smith, Cllr Keith Rayner said: "Barry would like to say thank you to all the members of the public who have supported him over the last 18 months.

"This has destroyed his life and left him and his family in a very traumatic situation.

"He has had to move away from the community, the authority, from colleagues and friends and start all over again because he has been persecuted for his sexuality."

He added that the verdict was a victory for democracy and said Mr Smith did not hold a grudge against any political party.

Mr Smith had earlier told the court that he had been followed, spat at and threatened in the street following the election.

He said hostility from some residents during while canvassing in the days running up to the May ballot prompted him to erect a security gate at his home.

Waltham Forest Council confirmed Grell will cease member responsibilities immediately, pending an appeal. A council statement read: "Cllr Grell's conviction means she is automatically disqualified by law from holding office as a councillor for three years.

"She is also under a duty to vacate her office as a councillor. This duty may be suspended for up to three months if Cllr Grell appeals against her conviction.

"In the meantime, the law requires that she is suspended from performing any functions as a councillor with immediate effect. In accordance with its legal duties, the council is taking appropriate steps to apply this suspension."