Plans by residents of a Sussex market town to burn an effigy of  First Minister Alex Salmond at a Bonfire Night party have been scrapped at the 11th hour.

A guy of the First Minister had been unveiled as the centrepiece of the prestigious Lewes bonfire celebrations. 

The official East Sussex County Council Twitter account this afternoon tweeted a picture of the effigy, which includes Nessie and a 45% symbol, with the message "A sneak preview of Alex Salmond and Nessie ahead of tonight's bonfire in Lewes - it just rolled up at County Hall."

But shortly before it was due to go up in flames and smoke tonight, the burning was stopped, with Sussex Police saying a complaint had been received and it had to investigate. The force did not immediately disclose the source of the complaint.

Read Julie McDowall's verdict on the reaction

In a tweet, shortly before the ceremonial burning, Sussex Police said: "For those enquiring we have been advised that there won't be any burning of the Alex Salmond effigies this evening in Lewes." 

The Waterloo Bonfire Society, which the council said had prepared one of the effigies, did not respond to requests for comment.

A second effigy, depicting Mr Salmond in kilt as a true Scotsman and paraded through the streets of Lewes, also appears to have escaped a fiery fate.

Sussex Police said in its statement: "We are aware of the portrayal of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond as an effigy at the 2014 Lewes Bonfire event and acknowledge that concerns have been raised.

"Whilst we accept there is a long tradition of creating effigies of high-profile individuals in politics, sport, the media, etc, a complaint has nevertheless been received and will be investigated.

Another police source said: "Some people from the calls we have had seem to think that Alex Salmond himself is being set alight but it was in fact an effigy."

It has been removed from public view because the organisers understand that feelings are understandably sensitive at the moment."

The u-turn came after the First Minister said he was more upset by the decision to burn Nessie.

He said: "I'm in pretty good company - Angela Merkel got the burning treatment from the East Sussex Conservative council. I think their judgement is askew but if they think I'm a threat to the Westminster establishment like Guy Fawkes, they are right.

"I am used to insults from Tories in East Sussex and if they think that is a good thing to do it is up to them."

He added it was "totally outrageous" to burn the Loch Ness Monster.

The First Minister had also made a list of possible guys for the Edenbridge Bonfire Society's celebrations in Kent but was pipped to the post by former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

The unveiling of the bonfire celebration centrepiece in Lewes provoked anger on Twitter.

Ross Matthews tweeted: "@EastSussexCC completely enraged by your anti scottish behaviour. Will not be visiting East Sussex again."

David McElroy tweeted: "@EastSussexCC What have you been drinking down there to think this was a good idea?"

Finlay Harris tweeted: "@EastSussexCC are you honestly burning an effigy of Alex Salmond...?? What an abhorrent thing to do..."

Lynsey Macfadyen tweeted: "@EastSussexCC that is utterly disgraceful! What if Scotland were to burn thatcher or Cameron? We'd get hate but naw it's okay for you?"

Alex Cox tweeted: "@EastSussexCC Burning the man who tried to break Westminster? You don't really *get* Guy Fawkes' Night, do you?"

East Sussex County Council rebuffed the criticism and replied: "Please note that the Alex Salmond and Nessie models were created by Waterloo Bonfire Society #LewesBonfire and have NO connection to ESCC."

Lewes Bonfire is a series of celebrations in the East Sussex town which form what it says is the UK's largest and most famous Guy Fawkes Night festivities, with Lewes laying claim to the title of Bonfire capital of the world.

The event not only marked the date of the uncovering of the Gunpowder plot in 1605, but also commemorates the memory of 17 Protestant martyrs from the town who were burned at the stake in the 16th century.

There are six societies putting on five separate parades and firework displays: this can mean 3000 people taking part in the celebrations, and up to 80,000 spectators attending in the small market town, which has a population of just under 16,000.