A leading member of a homophobic church group in the US has claimed that they intend to picket in this country.

Shirley Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas said it would be their first protest in the UK, but was unclear as to how they would get here in time for Friday’s performance.

It has been speculated that they may have British-based supporters but there is no evidence of their existence.

They claim they will picket a performance of The Laramie Project in Basingstoke.

The play is a chronicle of the life of the town of Laramie, Wyoming the year after the murder of a gay man, Matthew Shepard.

While notorious for its protests at the deaths of US soldiers killed in action, Westboro also has a reputation for publicity seeking.

Last year the church said it would picket the funeral of movie star Heath Ledger. The claim generated huge publiciity but the protest in Australia never happened.

The church regularly picket funerals claiming the deaths are God’s punishment for the country’s tolerance of homosexuals.

The tiny sect has less than 60 members, mostly relations of founder Fred Phelps.

“It is the first actual picket. We have been preaching by so many means to the UK for years,” Ms Phelps told the Daily Telegraph.

“The arm of the Lord our God is not shortened by oceans and things, all of which he created, and all of which he knew about when he considered these last hours of the very last days of all.”

It is unclear if this means they will or will not be physically present.

Gay groups have organised a counter-protest and Hampshire police have promised a high profile at the performance.