CONSERVATIVES must fight to avoid the "shame" of losing the second leader in two years at next week's elections, a leading activist says.

Catrina Lambert, chairman of Rochford and Southend East Tories, has sent out a stark warning to grassroots members warning three key seats could be lost next Thursday.

In the memo leaked to the Echo, Mrs Lambert admits council leader Murray Foster's seat is at risk in Prittlewell ward where ex-Echo columnist and BBC journalist Ric Morgan is standing for the Lib Dems.

Last year, council leader Anna Waite was ousted by the Lib Dems in the same ward.

Mrs Lambert says: "The priorities are protect the leader, not only because Murray Foster is the right man for the job but because the shame of losing a second leader in two years would cause shockwaves across the whole borough."

Other Tory seats under threat are Shoeburyness and Thorpe ward. Mrs Lambert wrote in the memo it was essential to protect Thorpe, where new candidate Nigel Folkard had been "working 24/7 for the past few weeks".

There was controversy among Tories in the ward earlier in the year when sitting member Tony Delaney was deselected.

Mrs Lambert, referring to Thorpe ward, says: "The loss of what has been referred to as the jewel in the crown' would cause ripples well into Southend West and would embolden all opposition in future elections."

The main opponent is independent Ron Woodley, chairman of the Burges Estate Residents' Associ-ation, which has more than 1,500 members.

He said: "It just proves if they had spent as much time and effort in the last couple of years in working for Thorpe ward and looking after the concerns of residents, they would not be in this position. We have not been asking for a vast amount of money to have been spent, but just to protect our environment."

Speaking of their challenge in Prittlewell again-st Mr Foster, Lib Dem group leader Graham Longley said: "It shows how worried they are because we have a strong candidate and I believe there are also signs of some shock results coming elsewhere in the town."

Shoebury, where there is strong opposition to Tory Pat Rayner from Indepen-dent Mike Assenheim and Labour's Anne Chalk, both well-known locally, is also considered vulnerable.

The memo says: "The felling of trees in Gunners Park came at the wrong time."

According to the confidential report, the Con-servatives are expecting to hold their Southchurch and West Shoebury heartlands but with an increased BNP vote.

They admit in Victoria, candidate Roger Kemp is unlikely to defeat sitting Labour councillor David Norman, but an increased Conservative vote is hoped for. However, they have high hopes of Kursaal, where Blaine Robin has been active in recent years, and St Luke's, where Anna Waite is hoping to rejoin the council.

The memo also reveals concerns about the future of Richard Amner, former Rochford District Council chairman, in his Barling and Sutton seat. He is facing opposition from Independent Robin Allen.

Mrs Lambert wrote: "A loss of this seat, where there are only 700 dwellings, would be seen as a disaster, even though there is a Conservative majority of 29 on Rochford council."