EPPING Forest MP Eleanor Laing has won a vote of confidence of Conservative Party members in the district, despite a storm of criticism over her expenses.

The outcome of this evening's vote, from which press and public were barred, means Ms Laing will remain Tory candidate for the Epping Forest seat at the next election.

Mrs Laing won by 83 per cent, with an audience of "around 200" people, according to sources at the meeting.

Mrs Laing told the Guardian she was overjoyed by the result.

She said: "I'm delighted by the overwhelming support of the majority of party members.

"I'm humbled by the support that all these really good people have shown in me that they bothered to come to the meeting tonight."

Mrs Laing admitted she had faced criticism at the meeting, but said the majority of speakers were in support of her.

She added: "We had a stirring discussion of all aspects of it.

"But at the end of the meeting even those who spoke against me came to shake my hand."

Mrs Laing said she hoped the verdict would "draw a line" under controversy surrounding her expenses.

She said: "It's the end of it now.

"We have a serious fight on our hands now against Labour and the Lib Dems at the next election and that's what we as a party need to focus on now."

Mrs Laing added that she would have a "small glass of wine" to celebrate.

But tonight's vote came following a petition signed by 50 party members, including Epping Forest District Council's Conservative leader Cllr Di Collins.

It is not known if those party members will now come out to publicly back her.

Mrs Laing, who has held the Epping Forest seat for 12 years, has come under heavy criticism over her expenses, which saw her avoid £180,000 in capital gains tax by telling Parliament a Westminister flat was her second home, while telling the Inland Revenue it was her main home.

She previously indicated that she would not stand as Tory candidate for the seat at the next election if she lost the vote of confidence.

Mrs Laing recently paid back £25,000 to the taxpayer as a "moral gesture" and insists she has always acted within the rules and not done anything wrong.

Parliamentary auditor Sir Thomas Legg has said she did not need to repay any money, but elements within her own party have been pushing for a new Conservative candidate.

Mrs Laing said before tonight's crucial vote that she wanted to remain MP for the district "for many years to come."