THE Northern Echo has backed some wrong horses in its 140-year history (its birthday, incidentally, was yesterday), but none can be quite as wrong as Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch Lincoln, the Liberal MP for Darlington for January to December 1910.

I began his story last Thursday and it will conclude this coming Thursday in extraordinary fashion.

The Northern Echo's coverage of Trebitsch's campaign is peculiar.

It started on Monday, April 5, 1909, when it printed the first picture of our hero, along with a very complimentary profile. The paper at that time co-owned by the Liberal Rowntree family of York who had employed Trebitsch as a researcher, compiling notes on European social policy for David Lloyd George.

The Echo at first fell for Trebitsch's hyperbole. At 12, it said, the child prodigy was doing a college course "which covered the usual course of the first year in Arts at an English university. It was arranged that he should endeavour to take the whole four years' course in a single year, or rather in ten months. A two years' course was accomplished in 15 weeks, and the remaining two years' course was completed in six months from January to June. To accomplish this feat the victim (can we deem him otherwise) went regularly to bed at midnight and rose again at four next morning. He read ten hours a day with a tutor and studied privately for seven or eight hours besides. Eighteen out of the 24 hours of the day were spent by this child of 12 in study. He obtained the diploma for qualifying in all the subjects of the four years' course, which included Greek, Latin, German, Hungarian literature, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, physics, geography, history, chemistry with poetry and general literature".

Wow! The truth is more mundane. According to Bernard Wasserstein, to whom I am hugely indebited for his brilliant 1988 biography of Trebitsch, the boy showed no outstanding academic qualities as his brain tended to wander enormously. Indeed, Trebitsch's father lost his fortune on a stock market gamble so it is doubtful that the family could have afforded a private tutor even if there was a prodigy in their midst.

The paper's first article concluded by reporting on Trebitsch's work for the Rowntrees: "Mr Lincoln studied social conditions in Belgium, Switzerland, France and Denmark, and the knowledge he has gained in this way, coupled with his previous study and experience, have given him an almost unique training for the political life to which his attention has been directed increasingly during the last eight years."

But after the initial puff of enthusiasm, the Echo quietened its support.

This may have been because, rather than campaign in Darlington, the new candidate immediately dashed off to eastern Europe attempting to make himself filthy rich with various banking and oil industry schemes. He suggested to anyone gullible enough to listen that one of his backers was Sir Ernest Cassel, King Edward VII's financier and the wealthiest man in the country. This snippet is deeply intriguing to me, because in my fantastic new book, The Road to Rockliffe, I have a chapter devoted to Sir Ernest because his wife came from Hurworth Place. Indeed, Sir Ernest finessed away her family's financial problems in the late 1870s. By 1909 when Trebitsch came on the scene, Sir Ernest was long gone, but I wonder whether Trebitsch's magpie-like intelligence picked up the local connection of this most wealthy of men and embroidered it so he could weave it into his web of lies.

Anyhow, after that initial puff of enthusiasm, the Echo cooled to Trebitsch. It couldn't disavow him, of course, because he was its party's candidate, but it doesn't promote him. I was rather disappointed when I looked at the 1910 election coverage because he is treated like any other Liberal candidate - and there were about 25 of them in the North-East that the paper was supporting.

Trebitsch used a reverse-zenophobia campaign. His opponents highlighted his Hungarianess, and he remains the only person to be adopted as a British Parliamentary candidate while still a Hungarian citizen (he naturalised British a month after his adoption). Trebitsch cleverly, though, said that the sitting Darlington MP, Herbert Pike Pease, was promoting protection - putting import duties on goods coming into the country. Mr Pike Pease would argue that this was to protect British jobs by making foreign imports very expensive; Mr Trebitsch Lincoln argued that the same policy was pursued in Germany where it made all goods so expensive that the average working German was reduced to eating his pet dog. And no one wanted to be reduced to the level of those nasty dog-eating Germans, said the candidate with the thick foreign accent. So Trebitsch cleverly turned the foreigness question onto Mr Pike Pease, and won the seat by 29 votes.

Amazing, considering Trebitsch lack of campaigning, the national battering that the Liberals took, and Trebitsch's lukewarm support in The Northern Echo.

As Wasserstein says: "Without much assistance from the local Liberal ptress, Trebitsch, a stranger to Darlington, a novice on the hustings, a man who had himself never voted in a British election, a candidate whose most distinctive campaign plant had been the complaint that German workers ate the flesh of dogs, had at the age of 30 succeeded where Disraeli and countless others had failed, in being elected to the House of Commons at the first attempt."

So the Echo isn't entirely to blame for the fantastic phenomenon that is Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch Lincoln.