In a dramatic u-turn, Maria Gatland has been accepted back into the Conservatives.

The Croham ward councillor had been suspended by the Tory party following revelations she was a member of the provisional IRA in the 1970s.

But like the prodigal son, Coun Gatland confirmed today she had accepted the whip back from Conservative leader Mike Fisher.

He said: "I am very pleased to be able to announce that following an investigation conducted by me into the circumstances surrounding the revelation that Councillor Gatland had been involved with the provisional IRA in the early 70s, I am restoring the conservative whip to Coun Gatland.

"It is very clear that Maria left the IRA and denounced their activities over 30 years ago and since then she has worked hard to establish herself in the local community here in Croydon.

"As a local Councillor in Croham Ward she has worked tirelessly for the interest of her residents and I have received many emails and letters of support for her from them."

Coun Gatland added: "I am delighted to once again be part of the Conservative Group on Croydon Council.

"I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received from friends within the Group and most importantly from my constituents in Croham Ward."

The reprieve is a stark contrast to the initial reaction of council leader Coun Fisher who spoke of her “betrayal of trust”.

He added: “I immediately accepted her offer of resignation from the cabinet and urged her to resign from the council.”

Reacting to her apparent reprieve, Labour leader Tony Newman said: “It is imperative there is now an investigation into how somebody with a proven terrorist past came to be in charge of education.”

The decision to accept her resignation was met with criticism, with many pointing to figures like Martin McGuinness who are now in high political positions.

Coun Newman stood by his belief she should resign as a councillor and hold a by election now her true past has been revealed.

And as tensions subsided, Coun Gatland admitted she wished she had done things differently.

She said: “I had panicked.

“I should have told Mike Fisher and the council that I needed to talk to them.

“I should have shown them the book, To Take Arms, My Year with the Provisional IRA, I had written and explained the context.”

In her book, Coun Gatland admitted to taking part in an arms run in 1973 to Amsterdam to buy Czechoslovakian-made bazookas, grenades and rifles.

She described how the leader of the Provisional IRA at the time, Dave O’Connell, became smitten with her and gave her a .38 automatic pistol for protection.

The book, penned under her maiden name McGuire, remained a mystery to those in Croydon until Dr Peter Latham, an anti-academy activist, made allusions to the title during a council meeting on December 1.

The next day she had resigned and a council statement said she had been suspended from the Conservative party pending an investigation.