A FORMER council leader has announced he will not be contesting next month's election after more than four decades of service.

Conservative councillor and former party leader Tony Richmond was first elected in 1976, but has decided to stand down due to ill health.

Mr Richmond was leader of Darlington Borough Council from 1988 to 1991, and the town's mayor in 1993/94.

He became leader of Darlington's Conservatives in May 1988 and held that position for almost 20 years until he lost a vote of no confidence in January 2007 after some councillors became angry that his wife, Sue, was standing as a Labour candidate in the town's local elections that year.

Mr Richmond, formally a professional engineer, stood against former Darlington Labour MP Alan Milburn in the 2001 General Election as the Tory candidate.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, Mr Richmond said: "It has been an absolute pleasure – it has been so nice to have so many lovely messages from so many people.

"I will really miss it, but I have loved every minute of it."

Paying tribute to her husband, Mrs Richmond said: "Tony dedicated the whole of his life to politics, and he conducted himself with integrity and honesty throughout.

"He would be recognised by so many people when he was out and about in the town, and he set a great example to me and to everyone about how you should conduct yourself as a councillor - to be polite and to treat people with respect.

"He always had his finger on the pulse, he was always reading the papers, he joined in debates, he knew what the big issues of the day were and what people were talking about."

Conservative councillor Charles Johnson, ward councillor for Hummersknott, paid tribute to Mr Richmond, describing him as "the perfect councillor" and a man who was "very popular" among the electorate.

"Tony and I were elected in 1976 and worked as a team for some years , he had almost continual service since 1976. It was the year of a big swing to the Conservatives.

"He should be remembered for all the work he has done, that is exactly what he was about."