HART'S new Chief Executive, Jules Samuels, took over as returning officer for the local elections this May - and immediately turned her back on custom by banning the local press from the count.

For the last 20 years and more local reporters have been able to mingle with the candidates while the votes were being counted. This has led to better stories, immediate interviews and, occasionally, other non-election stories.

Now we are to be kept in a "press room" up on the balcony. We are told that we can ask for candidates to be brought up to us -but should any councillors be unseated, their natural inclination will be to sneak out before we can get to them. Miss Samuels, who got her first job as a Chief Executive only last August, should remember that electoral apathy is already widespread and reducing newspaper coverage of elections is hardly likely to reverse that trend.

We shall be at Hart for the results, but our main concentration must now be on Rushmoor, where our reporter will have the usual unfettered access to the count.