LABOUR maintained its majority of eight on Durham County Council when the party comfortably retained a vacant seat in Easington last night.

Alan Barker, a long-serving member of the former Easington district and Durham county councils, polled more than half the votes in a four-way fight for the vacant seat, one of two in Easington division.

The 69-year-old former miner and teacher gained 702 votes, 391 more than independent candidate Terry Murray, 311, while Liberal Democrat Carole Maria Harrison polled 126 and Conservative Margaret Reid tallied 120.

Coun Barker served on local councils in Easington from 1967, and was chairman of the former district council prior to standing down in 1993, when he was elected to the county council.

He left County Hall, albeit briefly, with the advent of the new unitary county council in April last year.

But he was given the Labour nomination when the seat became vacant with the death of party colleague Richard Burnip, last September.

The turn-out at yesterday's by-election was 20.9 per cent of the 6,053 electorate.

Labour holds 67 seats at County Hall, with 27 Liberal Democrats, 22 independents and ten Conservatives.