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Labour increases majority as UKIP fails to make major inroads; ST HELENS.

Byline: LORNA HUGHES @lorna_hughes

LABOUR increased its majority in St Helens after taking two wards from the Liberal Democrats - including the seat held by leader Steph Topping.

The party won in Newton and Sutton, taking the number of seats it holds to 42.

The Liberal Democrats now have three, down from five, but easily held on to stronghold Eccleston, where deputy mayor Geoff Pearl won convincingly with a majority of 1,100.

UKIP came second in nine of the 13 wards where it had candidates.

But a predicted strong challenge from the party's John Beirne in the Town Centre ward failed to materialise.

He polled 667 votes, coming second to Labour's Lisa Preston, who gained 1,470 votes.

Mr Beirne did not attend the count at St Helens town hall. The Conservatives still have three councillors in St Helens after successfully defending Rainford.

Labour's Marie Rimmer, a former leader of St Helens Council, who will be one of the town's Parliamentary candidates at the next general election, gained 1,693 votes in West Park.

She said she was "delighted" with the result and would continue to work hard for the community.

Ms Topping trailed into third place in Sutton behind Labour and UKIP, polling just 545 votes.

Labour's Pat Jackson took the seat with 1,418 votes, with UKIP's John Fairhurst gaining 607 in second place. Former Cllr Topping could not be reached for comment after her defeat.

Council leader Barrie Grunewald described Labour's wins as "convincing" and said it was a good day for the party in St Helens.

He said: "I'm very pleased with today's results. It shows our hard work over the year has paid off. It was never in doubt with what we were picking up on the doorstep.

"It puts us in a strong position but we won't rest on our laurels. But the electorate has spoken.

"The Liberal Democrats have been punished for their policies that have allowed the Conservatives to wreak harm on places like St Helens."

Mr Grunewald said Labour had not feared UKIP but said the "John Beirne" factor had been a concern in the run-up to the election, describing him as a "local personality."

He said: "But from what we heard on the doorstep, we were confident that we would win."

Former leader of St Helens Conservatives, Wally Ashcroft, failed in his bid to unseat Labour's Sue Murphy in Billinge and Seneley.

Lib Dem Frederick Barrett shared fifth place in the ward with the BNP.
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 24, 2014
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