BY JOHN ELWORTHY AND TOM JACKSON IN one of the most sensational election results ever in Fenland, Conservatives surpassed even their most optimistic assessment by capturing 39 of the 40 seats on the district council. Both Labour and Liberal Democrat candi

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Mac Cotterell, Robert Sears, Jonathan Farmer and Geoff Harper

BY JOHN ELWORTHY AND TOM JACKSON

IN one of the most sensational election results ever in Fenland, Conservatives surpassed even their most optimistic assessment by capturing 39 of the 40 seats on the district council.

Both Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates were mercilessly swept aside as one lone independent, who claimed the scalp of millionaire farmer Robert Sears, laid claim to the mantle of opposition leader.

Mark Archer's early victory as counting got under way today (Fri) at the Hudson Leisure Centre in Wisbech for yesterday's election, was it so far as opposition went to the ruling Tory group.

Barry Howlett and Avis Gilliatt (lab) who both lost

Conservatives knew they had the contest in the bag before a single vote had been cast, with 18 of their candidates being returned unopposed and a further four guaranteed a seat in multi ward seats in March and Wisbech.

But the results, as they filtered out throughout a long afternoon, left the Liberal Democrat and Labour camps devastated.

With town and parish council elections still being counted late into the evening, Lib Dem leader Chris Howes refused to comment until all the results were in.

But he stayed ashen faced as both he, his wife, and daughter heard of their defeat in the three district council wards in which they standing.

Kita Owen and Jan French

What was remarkable, however, about the results was areas such as Waterlees ward in Wisbech which, traditionally, has been a Labour stronghold for 30 years.

Sitting councillor Avis Gilliatt and her running mate, Ann Purt, had both expected to win comfortably, but on the day, with three out of four voters staying not turning out, both seats went to the Conservatives.

Former Labour Steve Cawthorne said he "deeply regretted" the loss of the ward, and was astonished that the new administration at Fenland Hall would be without any opposition councillors from either Labour or Lib Dems.

Manea was remarkable for many reasons, not least the fact that Robert Sears' tenure has proven to be so short- he only won the seat last year in a by election after Pop Jolley's resignation and was tipped for future promotion in Councillor Geoff Harper's new Cabinet.

Mr Sears smiled politely but declined to comment, leaving shortly after his result was declared.

But there were plenty of others willing to speak about the Conservative triumph, including Cllr Harper who said the result " confirmed the electorate's confidence in the Conservatives to take this council forward to even greater heights."

The day was marred by two minor controversies, one involving Labour and the other involving the Conservatives.

Former council leader Alan Melton, who comfortably won his Chatteris seat, was surprisingly bitter at the end after surveying his party's result.

"Everything this council has achieved was of my making during my time as leader," he said. "While I do not begrudge Cllr Harper his triumph, this day was more than anything a vindication of everything I had prepared the way for."

Cllr Melton stood aside as leader following his four month suspension two years ago by the standards board, and was not invited to either return as leader or to Cllr Harper's Cabinet. Whether he gets a job in the new Cabinet is not certain- privately he has told Cllr Harper he will not serve alongside Councillor Peter Skoulding, himself returned in his March ward, in any new Cabinet at Fenland Hall. Cllr Skoulding has been portfolio holder for finance- ironically a post, at county council level, Cllr Melton now enjoys as the newly appointed county Cabinet lead member for corporate services.

Labour councillor Barry Howlett was also bitter at today's results after his lost his March east seat.

He was still waiting to hear if he had won a seat on March Town Council but said even if voters re-elected him he would resign immediately.

"If I am not good enough for Fenland, then I am not good enough for March," he said.

Among the returning faces to Fenland is Phil Webb, at Elm, and newcomers include Peter Tunley, a former executive employed by Fenland District Council.

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