THE Right-wing British National Party makes its first election bid in rural County Durham next month.

The BNP is testing the political waters in Wear Valley and Sedgefield by standing for seats in the local elections on May 1.

Two BNP candidates are contesting seats on Wear Valley District Council for the first time: Jason Thornton in Woodhouse Close and Lee Thornton in Henknowle, both wards are in Bishop Auckland.

In the elections for Sedgefield Borough Council, Justin Spencer Thornton is standing for the BNP in the Neville and Simpasture ward in Aycliffe, while Janine Rebecca Thornton-Browne takes on Labour leader Brian Stephens and long-serving Frank Timmiss in Shildon's Thickley ward.

BNP regional organiser Kevin Scott said the move is the boldest yet for the party in the North-East.

Mr Scott said: "This is the first time we've been able to put forward candidates in these areas, though we've steadily gained support in other parts of the region.

"We're not expecting too much the first time we stand in these wards, we just hope to secure a respectable vote this time around which we can build on in the future.

"We want people to understand our viewpoints and give us a fair crack of the whip."

Councillor Stephens said: "Anyone can stand for elections and everyone has the right to vote for whom they wish."

The Liberal Democrats are also fielding a strong team in Wear Valley, contesting 29 of the 40 seats. Among a total of 77 candidates there are two Conservatives, five Independents and two unknowns.

Seven Labour councillors from Wear Valley are not seeking re-election. They are John Elmes (Willington west), Charlie Kay (Coundon), former chairman Anne Newton (Hunwick), Kathleen Parkin (Howden-le-Wear), Maurice Scott (Stanley), Alan Turner (St Helen Auckland) and Dave Wright (Coundon).

A full list of candidates in the election, which is to be a postal vote for the first time, will appear in a future edition of the Wear Valley Advertiser.