THE Tories retook Hyndburn just 12 months after being ousted by Labour, with new leader Peter Britcliffe declaring: "It's my best birthday present yet!"

Turnout across the borough was up from 36 per cent as 51.47 per cent of the 45,769 electorate registered their vote in the authority's first ever postal ballot.

History repeated itself when, for the second successive year, the borough's mayor elect was ousted.

Labour's Wendy Dwyer lost out to newcomer Paul Barton in the crucial Barnfield ward, with the votes having to be recounted, leaving the Tories with one more seat than Labour.

With the BNP missing the deadline for candidates, it was the only ward in the borough with three candidates and although the turnout in Barnfield was up from 36 per cent last year to 52.6 per cent, the vote was split by the Green Party candidate Ian Dixon.

Immediately Coun Dwyer said she would not be standing in the local elections again, preferring to concentrate on her county council activities.

Mr Dixon polled 545 votes -- only 78 less than Coun Barton.

One man who knows how Coun Dwyer feels is Derek Scholes who suffered a similar fate last year after being deselected in his Baxenden ward because of boundary changes. To avoid losing the mayoralty and remain a councillor he stood in Barnfield and lost out to Coun Dwyer by 11 votes. Last night he was beaten by Malcolm Pritchard in the Milnshaw ward.

With both parties defending six seats each it was nip and tuck all the way but by the time seven of the 12 seats had been declared Coun Ian Ormerod was ready to concede defeat.

"I would say we are down. We haven't lost to the Conservatives, we've lost to one Green candidate, who split the vote," he said.

And two gains for the Conservatives was enough to give them a one seat majority.

Their other gain was a surprise return to politics for Janet Storey who lost out on a seat in Altham last year after being a member for Clayton-le-Moors for four years.

She returns to her old ward after beating John Burke who in less than a week has lost his business, his home and his council seat.

Coun Storey had a special word of thanks for her brother Jack Cooper, a former Labour member for Clayton-le-Moors who this year campaigned for his sister.

There was a consolation for Labour though with the return of Lesley Jackson who beat Stan Horne to take the Rishton seat.

New council leader Peter Britcliffe, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, was jubilant.

"It's an incredible night for us to take Hyndburn. We are delighted to be back, and are ready to serve.

"This is going to be a very special birthday."

Hyndburn's Labour MP Greg Pope said: "It's disappointing but the Tories only have a majority of one which in mid-term of a Labour government is an astonishingly poor performance for them.

"I'm pleased about the turnout but I think it's clear that a lot of Labour voters stayed at home.

"And I take some responsibility for that as MP especially as I supported the war in Iraq and that was not enormously popular with some of the Labour core voters."


CON 18

LAB 17