IN one of the most controversial Local Elections in the borough's history, Labour have taken control of Bury Town Hall after its candidate sensationally drew the long straw in a drawing-of-lots clincher.

Before the election, the Tories were in control of Bury Council, with 23 seats to Labour's 20 and the Lib Dems' eight.

But in a dramatic twist at the Castle Leisure Centre in Bury Town Cente early on Thursday morning, Labour ousted three Lib Dems and two Tories.

That left them needing one more seat to gain an outright majority of 26 seats.

All that was left was the Ramsbottom seat and there were three recounts, two of which showed a tie between Labour candidate Joanne Columbine and Tory rival Robert Hodkinson.

The contest was so close, returning officer Mike Kelly suspended counting at 5am and it resumed at 1pm.

Counters spent a total of four hours tallying up votes in three seperate counts.

With a dead heat still remaining, Mr Kelly invited the two candidates to chose one of two straws that had been placed in a box out of sight.

Mrs Columbine went first and drew the long straw, with Mr Hodkinson going next and sealing his fate before a huge roar went up among Labour supporters in the counting hall.

Afterwards, the new Cllr Columbine said: "It feels unreal.

"I don't think in my wildest dreams that, if I did win, it would come down to lots.

"It has been a great experience for me. It's the first time I've done anything like this and I've really enjoyed the journey."

She added: "I thought myself originally as the plucky outsider and I'd hoped not to embarass myself with the result. I am delighted."

Labour leader Cllr Connolly said: "That is one of the best experiences I've ever been through in 40 years of politics and one of the worst.

"I spoke to both candidates involved in the drawing of the lots and said that, after months of campaigning and with them both new to politics, it was going to be awful tension for them."

He added: "The Tories have always considered Ramsbottom to be their heartland and we have smashed that open.

"We will get rid of the Strong Leader model and reinstate the Executive, with the Cabinet and each opposition leader being members and each getting a vote.

"We will also reinstate public question time at Full Council meetings."

Cllr Connolly also addressed the issue of the Transformation Agenda, a proposal for the private and voluntary sectors to deliver more council services.

"That plan is now dead in the water," said Cllr Connolly.