CHURCH leaders have joined forces to fight a far-right party's bid to win a by-election.

The British National Party (BNP) has put forward 36-year-old IT specialist Scott Morrison to contest a seat on Chester-le-Street District Council in a postal election for the Chester North ward.

In a rare move, leaders of Catholic, Church of England, Methodist and United Reformed churches, have issued a joint statement denouncing the BNP.

The Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, The Roman Catholic Bishop of Newcastle and Hexham, the Rt Rev Ambrose Griffiths, the chairman of the Newcastle District of the Methodist Church, the Rev Leo Osborn and the moderator of the Northern Province of the United Reformed Church, the Rev Peter Poulter have all signed the statement.

They urge people to cast their votes for "candidates whose policies aim to build a just and caring society".

It reads: "As church leaders within the North-East, we share the concern of many people in the region at the fielding of a candidate by the British National Party in the forthcoming council election in Chester North."

The statement comes days after trade unions, religious and community groups formed a Chester-le-Street Unites Against BNP group.

The meeting was called by the Trades Union Congress in the town on Wednesday.

Kenny Bell, deputy regional convenor for Unison said similar groups had already been set up in Sunderland, Teesside, Newcastle, Gates-head and Darlington.

BNP spokesman Kevin Scott said: "It's another left-wing extremist attempt to corrupt the election. There are four candidates. People can make up their own minds without extremists attempting to disrupt the election."

The Chester North seat became vacant when Labour Councillor Keith Lambert died in June. The deadline for the return of postal votes is October 2.