ANOTHER day. Another farmer's livelihood ruined.

Yesterday it was the turn of David Walker to receive the news that all three farms owned by his family had contracted foot-and-mouth disease.

The County Durham farmer said that officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) had told him the outbreak had reached his farms.

Mr Walker, whose uncle and father run his two neighbouring farms at Satley, near Lanchester, said: "I was just too upset to talk about it before, but I can tell you that it is definite.

"This is a nightmare. All I can say is that whatever the Government give us in compensation it will be nothing compared to the stress and heartache we've had in these last few days.

"All I would ask would be that we are left alone to come to terms with this. I can't even think about things like compensation properly at this stage."

If, as expected, the case is officially confirmed by Maff today it will be the 16th in County Durham.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair has been warned by the boss of the Northumbrian Tourist Board against delaying the local elections on May 3.

The warning was made in a letter to North-East MPs from the board's chief executive Peter Sloyan, following a private meeting on Thursday between him and Mr Blair.

Mr Sloyan said: "Rural tourism has all but shut down."

He said delaying elections would put off overseas visitors further.

The Prime Minister was told: "A sense of stability, reassurance and normality is crucial at this time and delaying local elections would only exacerbate overseas perceptions of instability."

A rural tourism recovery plan was called for by Mr Sloyan.

"Only Government can provide the necessary support to kick-start the UK tourism economy and begin the recovery," he said.

The Prime Minister expressed "deep concern" about the plight of rural tourism, and wanted to know what the Government could do to help.

Mr Sloyan urged Mr Blair to press banks to do whatever they could to help traders stay in business.

"Cash flow is the immediate problem," says the letter.

"Any action to reduce or soften the burden would be welcome.

"Only Government could influence a sympathetic response from the major clearing banks, delay VAT receipts for three months, encourage soft loans, promote business rates relief and other financial supports."

He urged Mr Blair to lift restrictions on visitors in some areas.

While some areas were suffering badly, others were largely unscathed.