A HANDFUL of votes separated first and second place in a by-election to replace a popular councillor who died earlier this year.

Conservative Pauline Culley was elected to the Mowden ward of Darlington Borough Council with 647 votes, ahead of Labour's candidate, Jackie Saint, with 614.

Charlotte Bull, of the UK Independence Party, came third with 235 votes and Hilary Allen, of the Liberal Democrats, polled 93. The turnout was 51.68 per cent.

Yesterday's by-election was called following the death of long-serving Conservative councillor Ron Lewis, in January.

Following the count today, Cllr Culley said: "The people of Mowden are really friendly and have been lovely to me.

"A lot of them knew Ron and they have welcomed me."

Cllr Culley, 55, has been a Conservative for more than 20 years and wrote to Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister.

She said: "I told her I was in despair, that all my school friends were for Labour and she wrote back, telling me to keep up the good fight.

"My reason for being a Conservative is I can add up - don't spend what you don't have and try to do good things with what you do have.

"I just want to do my best for everybody and want the ward to be well looked-after, for people to have the facilities they need.

"I will be trying to get stuff sorted for them - I write a good letter."

Cllr Culley previously stood, unsuccessfully, in the Pierremont ward, in 2011.

Asked to comment on the closeness of the election, she replied: "I only needed to win by one vote and was hoping for anything above that, so I am delighted."

Labour increased its share of the vote in Mowden from 35 per cent in 2011 to 38 per cent in the by-election.

Its candidate Jackie Saint congratulated Cllr Culley, adding: "I have lived in Mowden for 27 years and knew Ron Lewis very well.

"People saw us as a team and I am very proud that has been shown in the number of votes I have got."

Hinting that she will run again in next year's local elections, she added: "I am Mowden through and through, it is where I live and where I have brought my children up.

"Every area deserves a local voice and I hope that, one day, it will be my voice that is heard."