CRUSADING health watchdog Bob Bryant - protesting over ward closures at Halton Hospital - defeated board member and North Cheshire Hospitals Trust chairman Allan Massey by more than 200 votes in a dramatic election result.

Another surprise saw Halton's longest serving councillor, Arthur Cole, lose his Castlefields Labour seat to the Liberal Democrats by just three votes - days before he was to become deputy Mayor.

Jubilant Halton Brook Liberal Democrat Cllr Bryant, said: "This is a victory for the people of Halton.

"I stood because 23,000 people told him not to close the hospital. I will fight to keep as many services as possible.

"There should be a hospital in this borough for everyone - give it back to the people and forget Warrington."

Former wagon driver, Bob - 60 tomorrow, Thursday - suffered his first stroke at 38 and founded Britain's biggest stroke club, Let's Go in Halton.

Despite a second stroke, he continued to campaign for healthcare improvements as chairman of Halton's patient and public involvement forum.

"I am passionate about Halton," said Bob, recently elected a patient governor at St Helens & Knowsley Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

"Halton people should have decided on health services in the borough.

"I did get some really positive vibes from people who said they weren't happy with the hospital or the Ineos Chlor incinerator.

"You've got to listen to the people."

Defeated Allan Massey defended transferring acute services to Warrington.

He said: "The feedback from patients is absolutely marvellous. Hundreds have commented on the level and speed of the service they've got. There are four times as many doctors so they are tended to immediately.

"We've saved £18m, we're more efficient, there have been no redundancies and I'm satisfied patients have come out with a better service."

He said he was proud of his 10-year council record.

"Education results have risen markedly and social services have improved. I gave the best I could."

Veteran Arthur Cole blamed apathy, Iraq and dissatisfaction with Tony Blair for his loss.

He said: "People do take national policies into account.

"We knew we were in for a tough fight.

"I'm very disappointed."

Developments during his 35-year service, he said, had transformed Halton.

"The physical improvements are really quite remarkable.

"When we get the new bridge, we will remove the biggest economic obstruction for inward investment, jobs and prosperity.

"Castlefields was one of the most social and economic rundown areas of northern England. £100m will be pumped in over the next 10 years.

"It's been an honour and a privilege to have put my shoulder to the wheel.

"I've never lost my enthusiasm, never been complacent. I enjoyed the hurly burly and debates that went on.

"I'm mulling over whether I should stand again."

Halton Council now consists of: 33 Labour seats, 15 Liberal Democrats and eight Conservatives.

The turnout was 27.33 per cent.

l The World website runcor was the first with all of Halton's election results and the stories from the night. Visit our website for the full results.