The Observer newspaper has today claimed that Philippa Stroud, a Conservative candidate likely to win the Sutton and Cheam at this week’s general election founded a church that purported to “cure” gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people through exorcising their “demons” through prayer. Through a statement, Mrs Stroud said that she does not believe homosexuality is an illness, although she refused to comment on whether she believed homosexuality could be cured through prayer.

The revelations come a week after PinkNews.co.uk showed that the support for the Tories among the LGBT community had dropped from 39 per cent in June 2009 to 9 per cent.

Mrs Stroud runs the Centre for Social Justice, a right of centre think tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith when he lost his position as leader of the Conservative Party. Through the centre, Mr Smith has formulated over 70 of David Cameron’s family policies.

Mrs Stroud founded the King’s Arms Project, a shelter and church in Bedford that primarily helped support drug addicts and alcoholics. It is claimed that it also helped LGBT people.

‘Abi’ then a teenager who believed she was transsexual told the newspaper that she was sent to the church because her parents were “Convinced I was demonically possessed, my parents made the decision to move to Bedford, because of this woman [Mrs Stroud] who had come back from Hong Kong and had the power to set me free.

“She wanted me to know all my thinking was wrong, I was wrong and the so-called demons inside me were wrong. The session ended with her and others praying over me, calling out the demons. She really believed things like homosexuality, transsexualism and addiction could be fixed just by prayer, all in the name of Jesus.”

‘T’, a gay man went tot he church because he wished to stop homosexual desires. He said: “I was trying to convince myself that a change was possible but, at the same time, a part of me didn’t believe it was possible

“The church’s approach was not that it was sinful to be homosexual but that it was sinful to act on it. The aim is to get a person to a position where they don’t have these sinful emotions and thoughts.”

He told the newspaper though that Mrs Stroud “genuinely cares about people. Her personal beliefs may get in the way sometimes, but she is a positive person.”

Mrs Stroud authored a book called ‘God’s Heart for the Poor’ where she claimed that it is possible to deal with people with show signs of “demonic activity”.

“I’d say the bottom line is to remember your spiritual authority as a child of God. He is so much more powerful than anything else!”

After founding her church in Bedford, she established another in Birmingham. Angela Paterson, an administrator for it told The Observer: “With hindsight, the thing that freaks me out was everybody praying that a demon would be cast out of me because I was gay. Anything – drugs, alcohol or homosexuality, they thought you had a demon in you.”

Today, Mrs Stroud issued a statement saying: “I make no apology for being a committed Christian. However it is categorically untrue that I believe homosexuality to be an illness and I am deeply offended that the Observer has suggested otherwise.”

When PinkNews.co.uk pointed out to her spokesman that The Observer’s prime claim was not that she believed homosexuality to be an illness, rather that she appeared to believe it could be overcome through prayer and removing “demons”, he said: “we will not be adding to or subtracting to the statement.”

The statement does however go on to say: “I have spent more than 20 years working with disturbed people who society have turned their back on and who are often not helped by state agencies. Drug addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill and the homeless are just some of the people that I and my friends in the charitable sector have tried to help over the years.

“The idea that I am prejudiced against gay people is both false and insulting.”

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive Stonewall told The Observer: “If Mrs Stroud has been praying to rid Britain of its homosexuality, she clearly hasn’t been praying hard enough. It would be highly regrettable if someone who continued to hold these views held any significant office in government.”

David Cameron has been a pains of late to emphasise the way he believes he has changed the Conservative Party’s attitudes to homosexuality. Writing for PinkNews.co.uk at the start of the general election campaign, he said: “”We are totally committed to the fight for gay rights and there will be absolutely no going back on equality legislation if a Conservative government is elected.”

But he has been hit by secretly recorded comments by his shadow home secretary Chris Grayling where he suggested that bed and breakfast owners should have the right to ban gay couples; his shadow defence minister Dr Julian Lewis who said that equalising the age of consent has led to greater levels of HIV; and just last week, PinkNews.co.uk revealed that Philip Lardner, a Scottish Conservative candidate’s official election website stated that homosexuality was not ‘normal’ and that section 28, which bans the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools should not have been repealed. Mr Cameron banned Mr Lardner from the being an official Conservative Party candidate but has taken no action against either Mr Grayling or Dr Lewis.

In today’s Independent on Sunday, Mr Cameron responded to last weekend’s PinkNews.co.uk poll showing a decline by 30 per cent in the number of LGBT people intending to vote Conservative since June 2009. He said: “That was not a good poll … Has it been an incident-free journey? No. Has it been fast enough? No. Is there still further to go? Yes. I couldn’t be more honest about it.”