A POISON-PEN letter has prompted council chiefs and police to re-issue safety advice to members after a "contract" was put out on their heads.

Police received a letter offering thousands of pounds as a reward for the "head" of any Labour councillor serving on Durham County Council.

The letter was sent directly to Durham Constabulary’s Chief Constable Mike Barton who then contacted the local authority to alert members to the threat.

As a result of the highly politicised letter, the council’s chief executive has written to all members to reassure them that there was no intelligence to corroborate the threat, which was offering between £20,000 and £50,000 for a member’s head.

Last night Labour Party chiefs said they were working closely with and fully co-operating with the police.

Cllr Carl Marshall, chairman of County Durham Labour, said: “Abusive correspondence is something that is sadly becoming increasingly common, but threats to the lives of Labour councillors is extremely concerning and not something that we have ever had to deal with.

“We have issued police guidance to all Labour councillors and prospective Labour candidates to be more aware of their own personal security and also to help in any way with the ongoing investigation.

“It would be easy to dismiss the threats contained in the letter, but the tragic murder of Labour MP Jo Cox serves to prove that there is a real threat facing those who work in politics, whatever party they represent."

A Durham Police spokesman said: “On the evening of Thursday, March 2 police received a letter which was addressed to the Chief Constable at Durham Police headquarters.

“The letter contained a great deal of political rhetoric, along with threats to a large number of county councillors. There is no supporting intelligence to corroborate these threats.

“Unfortunately, letters of this nature are not uncommon and are generally sent to cause concern to the recipients without any real substance behind them.

“However, enquiries are taking place to trace the person responsible for the letter and we are liaising with Durham County Council to offer reassurance to those named.”

The letter is the latest attack on the council after a highly inflammatory leaflet was produced and distributed by an unknown person, criticising members of doing nothing to support the people of Chester-le-Street.

Following the latest letter, the local authority has re-issued all council members with guidance and advice to ensure their safety while the investigation into the letter continues.

The elected members have been reminded to avoid holding meetings or councillor surgeries on their own, recommending they are accompanied on any home visits to speak to residents and to check the authority’s Potentially Violent Persons Register.

The letter to councillors warning them of the threats was co-signed by the council’s chief executive Terry Collins and Assistant Chief Constable Dave Orford.

It reads: “Durham Constabulary will regularly update the council regarding this matter and further information will be provided if there are any developments. If anyone has any specific information that would assist the investigation please contact the police by either dialling 101 or 999 in an emergency.

“We would encourage all members to follow the advice and guidance that has been circulated previously by Kevin Lough (the council's occupational health and safety manager) although arrangements will be made for this to be circulated again.”

Durham County Council did not wish to comment on the letter and referred The Northern Echo to the police press office for information.