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Newspaper's first campaign backed by 11,000

More than 11,000 people have signed a petition organised by a fledgling weekly newspaper to save a local hospital from being downgraded.

Staff at the Wear Valley Mercury, launched just two years ago, have been bowled over by the response to the title’s first ever campaign.

The independently-owned paper is fighting to halt the closure of the accident and emergency department at Bishop Auckland Hospital.

The petition, headed ‘Hands off our A&E’, has so far been backed by Bishop Auckland MP and assistant government whip Helen Goodman and Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg.

Ms Goodman even spent three weekends in the centre of Bishop Auckland, asking people to sign the Mercury’s petition.

Nick Clegg said: “I wish the Wear Valley Mercury every success in its campaign to stop the closure of Bishop Auckland Hospital’s A&E department.

“The outstanding success of this petition already shows the weight of public opinion against these changes.”

Editor Adrian Braddy added: “One in five of the population of Wear Valley have now signed our petition which is an extraordinary show of support for our campaign.”

Under proposals, the A&E department will be replaced by an urgent care base, meaning emergency cases will be taken to either Durham or Darlington.