SOMERSET'S district council leaders have been ordered to apologise after they sanctioned sending out a link to an offensive spoof website to hundreds of thousands of people.

Furious Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick has written to the leaders demanding to know what they intend to do to address the "serious failure".

The offending link, which mocks Somerset County Council leader Cllr David Fothergill, Rebecca Pow and County Hall officer Dr Carlton Brand, was included in literature supporting an unofficial referendum over the future of local government in the county.

The county council slammed the districts and claimed they had "trashed the reputations" of those targeted by the spoof website.

READ MORE: Major gaffe as councils send out offensive spoof website link.

The districts blamed "an independent third party" for the gaffe, while admitting "more efforts should have been made" to check the information sent out to taxpayers in the county.

In his letter to the district council leaders Cllrs Federica Smith-Roberts (Somerset West and Taunton), Duncan McGinty (Sedgemoor), Val Keitch (South Somerset), and Ros Wyke (Mendip), Mr Jenrick says he is writing "with deep regret".

Referring to "the serious failure in the administration of the poll", Mr Jenrick wrote: "This risks undermining the reputation and standing of local government in the country.

"Accordingly, I would ask you to advise me, as a matter of urgency, what steps you are now proposing to take to address this serious failure by your council.

"I am clear that such steps must include you forthwith apologising to those affected by the offensive remarks in the 'spoof' site; it is unacceptable for a council at taxpayers' expense to have circulated reference to material that is offensive and contains sexist and derogatory depictions of women."

Mr Jenrick added: "Whatever circumstances have led to this failure in poll administration, I would ask for your unambiguous assurance that you have now put in place arrangements to ensure that any information or material your council circulates in future will be wholly compliant with the provisions of the Code (of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity)."

He said: "Responsibility for this failure lies with your council."