THE Conservative group tightened its strangle-hold on Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council with a resounding victory in last night's local elections.

On a poor night for Labour and the Liberal Democrats the Tories gained three seats in Haldens, Hatfield South and Howlands.

The Labour group, which had hoped to weather the national storm and cling onto the five seats it was defending, ended up losing two of them. The Green Party also lost its one seat - held by popular Jill Weston - to the Conservatives.

Inspite of a poor turnout - as low as 24 per cent in some wards - council leader John Dean said the result represented a ringing endorsement on the party's shrewd management of the council.

He said: "It's been a spectacular night for us. It just proves that all the hard work we've put in has paid off. We've run a very positive campaign and avoided all the negative stuff."

Brimming with pride at the shock elections of 20-year-old-Paul Smith and 18-year-old Hannah Berry, Mr Dean added: "We've got some good young councillors coming through which is great news for us. Again, it's just reward for their very, very hard work. They have knocked on every door more then once throughout the campaign and they deserve it."

Liberal Democrat group leader Nigel Quinton, who had hoped to gain at least one seat, was left frustrated at the party's inability to cash in on Labour's demise.

He said: "We were disappointed with that. We were hoping to get at least one of the three. The Tories have done very well across the board but one has to say that this is as much down to Grant Shapps' (Welwyn Hatfield MP) influence as much as it is to the council. I don't believe the results reflect peoples views about the council. This was very much about the Shapps factor'."

Mike Hobday, Labour's prospective Parliamentary candidate, put a brave face on the result.

He said: "It wasn't great but it could have been so much worse given the problems we've had nationally. The Labour vote has actually held up very well - much stronger than we thought it would - because of the active campaigning by the party."