ONE of the four party members shortlisted to be the Labour candidate for the Hartlepool by-election has withdrawn.

Kath Rolph, a Sunderland City councillor who lives in Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham, pul-led out of the contest for personal reasons.

Her withdrawal means there are now three people hoping to follow in the footsteps of Peter Mandelson.

Local party members will vote tonight for which candidate they want to contest the poll, prompted by Mr Mandelson's departure for Brussels.

Each candidate will address to members in the Civic Centre before a secret ballot.

The candidates are all councillors -one from Hartlepool, one from Darlington, and one from Coundon, near Bishop Auckland.

Iain Wright, 32, has been a Hartlepool councillor for two years and works as an accountant for development agency One NorthEast.

Lee Vasey, 47, is a Darlington councillor who was shortlisted for the seat of retiring Durham City MP Gerry Steinberg in January, but failed to win selection.

Phil Graham, 51, is a postman in Darlington, a branch secretary of the Communication Workers' Union and a Durham County Councillor for Coundon, where he lives.

The Liberal Democrats have had their candidate, 35-year-old barrister Jody Dunn, selected for a week.

Conservative Party chiefs said their appointment is imminent and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) hopes to announce its candidate next week.

UKIP officials were in Hartlepool on Wednesday night, when local members formally decided to contest the by-election.

Although there is talk that Robert Kilroy Silk will not stand for the party, senior members said he could still run.