TRIBUTES have been paid to a popular North-East councillor, who has died suddenly.

Councillor Joe Lyonette, who represented Park East ward on Darlington Borough Council, passed away over New Year.

He is survived by his wife and a son and daughter.

Cllr Lyonette's father, David Lyonette, is also a member of Darlington Borough Council. His mother, the late Carol Lyonette, died in office as mayor of Darlington.

Council leader Bill Dixon led the tributes, saying: "Joe was a great guy who had many, many friends in the town.

"He was instrumental in raising many thousands of pounds for charity through Darlington Carnival – that was his passion and he was a long-time supporter of live music for young people."

Fellow Park East councillor Cyndi Hughes added: "Joe was probably one of the kindest, gentlest people that anybody has known.

"He had time for everybody, he was a great colleague and we are all just so shocked and saddened."

Cllr Hughes added: "Joe was a true son of Darlington.

"It was a rare occurrence when we were out knocking on voters' doors for him not to have gone to school with, worked with, played in a band with or in some other way be known to the occupants.

"Always ready with a broad smile and disarming comment, Joe was the perfect political partner - a good and empathetic listener and genuinely committed to making life better for the people we represent.

"My heart aches for Joe's wonderful wife, amazing children and his loving father and sister."

Sarah Oatley, who operates the Lingfield Point company, Drawn Threads, said she had lost a dear friend.

"Our children went to the same school, his son Theo was my son's 'buddy' at school," she said. "I would help him out with delivering leaflets in his constituency. Rarely would you come across a man with such a gentle nature. He'll be missed within the ward and council."