CONSERVATIVES in North Yorkshire yesterday bucked the General Election trend when they strengthened their hold on power in the county council.

They kept overall control of the authority by taking 41 of the 74 seats up for grabs, one up on their total for 1997.

Although Labour managed to up their presence in the chamber by a similar number, their total of 12 seats still left them in third place, ahead of the independents who remained static on four.

The Liberal-Democrats, who controlled the authority in the mid 1990s, were the losers, down two to 17 seats, although they remain the second-biggest party on the authority.

The Lib-Dems provided the biggest shock of the county election when Richmond representative Angela Harris, now Baroness Harris of Richmond, lost her seat after 20 years.

Tory Oliver Blease polled 1,906 votes to her 1,635, and now, with her long local government and police authority career at an end, she plans to concentrate on her work in the House of Lords.

"I had an inkling this might happen because we knew the Tory vote was holding up well in Richmond," Baroness Harris said last night.

"I think the Richmond people have made it very clear that they don't want me any more. Oliver didn't just squeak in, he had a good majority."

She added: "I am sure local people thought that because I was at the Lords I wouldn't be able to do my work for them, but that has never been true in the past and wouldn't have been in the future.

"I have always fought hard for Richmond and have been a great champion of it."

She said: "I accept, with a very heavy heart, that is over."

Among those who failed to get on to the authority was Robert Heseltine, the disgraced former chairman of the Dales national park who was forced to resign last year when he was convicted of fiddling expenses.

He managed to poll 773 votes as an independent candidate for the Skipton East seat, but was still fourth, and the Tories held on comfortably.

Elsewhere in the county, Professor Mike O'Carroll, who rose to prominence as the leader of the campaign to prevent pylons being erected through the county, also failed to win a seat.

Standing as an independent from Appleton Wiske he took 487 votes, nowhere near Tory John Dennis's 2,708 total.

Tory leader David Ashton said: "People are realising that the Tory-controlled county council is well-run. We don't do anything silly and we make the best use of the resources we have."