AN election race has turned into a "low and dirty" fight according to a Middlesbrough mayoral candidate who has defended his campaign following allegations made by three election rivals.

Andy Preston denied misleading voters by using his parents' address in Middlesbrough on his nomination papers after being criticised in a joint letter by other independent contenders, Dave Roberts, Len Junier and Michael Carr.

In a letter sent to The Northern Echo they said: “For reasons of transparency we believe the people of Middlesbrough should know that Andy Preston’s usual address residence is a large country mansion sited in capacious grounds called Otterington Hall, South Otterington, outside but not in Northallerton.”

Mr Preston, who has businesses and charities based in Middlesbrough, said he would be staying at his parents’ Acklam house through much of the election campaign and had wanted to avoid publishing his own home address for security reasons.

"I always knew it would be a hard fight to become Middlesbrough's mayor - but I didn't expect it would be as low and dirty a fight as it's become.

"Over the last 18 months I've been subjected to a relentless campaign by opponents designed to intimidate, discredit and undermine me. It's never been about my ideas,” he added.

A guidance report by the Electoral Commission said that unless a mayoral candidate is relying on the qualification of having lived in the area in the last 12 months or being registered as an elector for the local authority area, their home address does not need to be in the local authority in which they wish to stand for election as mayor.

A post on Mr Preston’s Facebook page said that he had spent just over £5,000 out of a maximum of £8,000 on his election campaign. Electoral commission guidance said the spending limit for the regulated period is £2,362 plus 5.9p per registered elector in the local authority area, of which there are approximately 100,000 in the the town.

Middlesbrough Council and the Electoral Commission said any allegations of electoral malpractice were dealt with by police and a spokeswoman for Cleveland Police confirmed two reports had been received.

“Any information provided to us will be assessed to see what, if any, offence has been committed,” she said.