Voters in Hampshire will almost certainly have to wait until after this week’s police commissioner elections to find out whether the high-profile Conservative candidate for the post will face action over claims that he committed electoral fraud to enter the contest.
Michael Mates, the former Northern Ireland Secretary who is one of the best-known figures standing in tomorrow’s poll, is under investigation by Thames Valley Police following a complaint by one of his rivals that he misrepresented his place of residence to get on the ballot paper.
Under the rules of the election for police commissioners, the biggest change in post-war British policing, candidates are required to be registered to vote in the area where they are standing. Mr Mates is alleged to have rented a flat in Hampshire as an “address of convenience”.
The former Cabinet minister, who was for many years a Hampshire MP but has until recently lived in neighbouring West Sussex, has strongly denied the allegation, claiming he is the victim of a smear campaign.
Thames Valley Police, which was asked to investigate the allegations by the Hampshire force to avoid any conflict of interest, started interviewing witnesses last week but The Independent understands it is highly unlikely the investigation will be complete before the ballot.
In a statement, the force said: “The investigation is continuing, however owing to its complexity, it is unlikely to conclude before the election. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”
The ongoing inquiry means that voters in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight will not have clarity on the claims against Mr Mates, 78, who is considered a front runner for the £85,000-a-year post, when they head to the polls.
Don Jarrard, a former City lawyer who is standing as an independent against Mr Mates, made a formal complaint last week after it emerged that the former MP had rented a flat in Winchester in the belief that he met the requirement that his name appears on the electoral roll in Hampshire.
Mr Jarrard has accused his rival of fraud, saying he was not resident at his Winchester address in the way required by the law. Mr Mates, who confirmed he has rented a flat, has refuted the claims, saying that his eligibility has been approved by election officials.
He said: “These allegations are completely untrue.”