MEMBERS of the UK Independence Party have stood by politican Piers Merchant over reports of another extra-martial affair.

The former Newcastle MP, who has been campaigning for the UK Independence Party in Hartlepool's by-election, was photographed in a Sunday newspaper with a 41-year-old property consultant.

She is reported to have said Mr Merchant's marriage to wife Helen was in trouble before they got together.

It is the second time father-of-two Mr Merchant, who has a flat in Hartlepool marina, has been accused of having an affair.

Mr Merchant, 53, was first exposed while a Conservative Party MP for Beckendale, in Kent, before the 1997 General Election. On that occasion, the former Newcastle Central MP, who narrowly missed out on winning a North-East seat as a Member of the European Parliament earlier this year, was found to be having an affair with a 17-year-old Soho nightclub hostess.

Last night, fellow UKIP campaigners in Hartlepool stood by Mr Merchant.

Clive Page, Press officer for UKIP's by-election campaign in the town, said: "Piers' private life is a matter for him and does not affect his work for the party."