HUNDREDS of handbills attacking one of the region's most senior MPs were delivered to homes and businesses across her constituency in a co-ordinated night-time operation.

Police are investigating Tuesday's leaflet drop, which was branded the work of cowards and bullies by their target, Government Chief Whip and North-West Durham MP Hilary Armstrong.

Over a few hours, residents in an area covering Crook, Wolsingham, Frosterley, Castleside, Lanchester and Langley Park, in County Durham, reported seeing young men in dark suits handing out the unsigned photocopies.

In Wolsingham, they were seen working in pairs in the Market Place at about 8.30pm before a group of six met up and moved to another part of the village.

The literature claimed to be "not from a political party, but from a mother whose family has been destroyed", and criticised her stance on such issues as homosexuality, drug misuse, domestic violence, foxhunting, rural crime and fathers' rights.

Ms Armstrong's office in Crook was bombarded with calls and messages of support yesterday.

She said: "It is easy to make allegations that are totally untrue when it is anonymous. This is an act of cowardice.

"People like this see an election coming and try to frighten and intimidate people. It is the usual tactics of bullies.

"It was a co-ordinated operation that upset a lot of people, especially as it was conducted at night.

"It was upsetting, but you have to accept anything that is thrown at you if you care about democracy and you care about people."

A Wolsingham resident said: "Two men tried to shove a handful of leaflets into the hand of a man going into the club. They covered the whole village. It was carefully planned

"They weren't polite. They were in their 20s and seemed like angry young men. If they wanted people to support them, they didn't go about it the right way.

"They upset quite a few people, especially the elderly. The fact that it was dark made it even more sinister.

"Hilary has a lot of friends here and they are appalled that someone should do this."

Police said they had received several calls from across the constituency and were investigating complaints.