THE LEADER of the majority group in the New Forest has admitted he understands the reasons behind one member quitting the Conservatives after a series of criminal acts in their ward.

Bransgore ward councillor Richard Frampton left the party last week in protest over cuts to public services.

The Co-op store in the village on Oak Tree Parade, whose premises is owned by Cllr Frampton, has seen two armed robberies in the space of 14 days.

Both incidents took place around 9pm and saw the raider steal a quantity of alcohol, cigarettes and cash.

The first robbery, which occurred on Monday, January 15, saw staff threatened by a knife-wielding man. The second attack, which happened on Sunday, January 28, involved a man with a bladed item entering the store and approaching staff.

Police released CCTV footage and an E-fit image of a man they would like to speak to in connection with the second incident.

However, Cllr Frampton quit the Conservative group last week in frustration at the approach being taken to cut front line policing.

The decision follows a proposal from Hampshire police and crime commissioner Michael Lane to reduce officer numbers by 110, while expanding his own office's budget.

New Forest District Council and Conservative group leader Cllr Barry Rickman said he has to accept Cllr Frampton is doing what he believes is best for Bransgore.

"I'm sorry about it but I understand his reasons," Cllr Rickman said.

"I respect his position as he really is a Bransgore man. It is obviously a loss for the group, but he has to do what he thinks he has got to do.

"I have known him a long time outside of politics and he really does care about the village of Bransgore.

"In the bigger picture it is tough. We're dealing with regional level and onto a national level.

"We have minor problems in my ward of Sway. I remember the days when we had a village policeman that worked with the school. We will never return to that situation.

"A lot of it the work police do now is tackling stuff online and this has made policing a tougher task altogether."

Despite approaches from the Daily Echo, Cllr Frampton was unavailable to comment at the time of going to print.