A former Ukip and Conservative MP has been sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years, after being found guilty of tricking elderly constituents into signing electoral forms backing local candidates.
Bob Spink, who served as Tory MP for Castle Point in Essex for five years before defecting to Ukip in 2008, was found guilty at Southwark Crown Court of four counts of submitting false signatures on nomination forms, a type of electoral fraud.
Spink, 69, of Benfleet in Essex, was also ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work and pay £5,000 towards prosecution costs.
James Parkin, 39, from Canvey Island in Essex, Ukip’s election agent at the time, was found guilty of two counts of the same offence, and found not guilty of three. He had already admitted two counts and was given the same sentence.
Sentencing them Judge Ian Graham said: “This sort of offending undermines the working of democratic structures in this country.
“The democratic process depends on the good faith of those who engage in it, because a lot of what happens is of course quite difficult to police.”
The judge ordered both men to pay £5,000 each towards costs.
The court heard the Crown’s cost for the case was £6,543.75
Piers Wauchope, defending Spink, told the court his client relied on various pensions, including his parliamentary and military pensions, for his income of around £30,000 a year.
He said since being charged Spink had not been sleeping well, and that his reputation after spending years in public service had been ruined.
He added: “He says that he has been devastated by this.”
During the trial jurors heard Spink tricked “elderly and infirm” voters into signing the forms in April 2016, without making it clear what the documents were or which party he represented.
People in Spink’s constituency signed forms believing they were petitions, and having no idea they were supporting the Ukip candidate in the Castle Point Borough Council elections.
Spink said everything was above board, residents knew what they were signing, and that he only introduced the topic of the local elections once he had had gained their support for his campaign to become a police and crime commissioner (PCC).
None of the candidates included in Spink’s deception won a seat on the council, although a handful finished runner-up, the court heard.
Outlining the case, trial prosecutor Tom Nicholson said: “Did he disarm voters by talk of Europe, police, his PCC nomination, the need to obtain 100 signatures, and their desire for more police on the streets?
“Did he properly inform them which party he was in fact representing?
“Did he use what we would suggest was a casual and misleading approach on the doorstep?
“You will hear from quite a number of witnesses whose evidence, taken together, suggests just that.”
Prosecutors also suggested that people do not always read what they are asked to sign when doorstepped, and this was particularly the case when signatories were of some age.
Mr Nicholson said there was “no issue” with the 100 signatures obtained by Spink for him to stand as a candidate in the PCC election, during which the defendant was narrowly beaten by a Tory rival.
But he quoted local residents, whose signatures appeared on nomination forms apparently backing Parkin as a Ukip local election candidate, who said Spink and another man believed to be Parkin failed “in various ways to explain properly what they were asking residents to sign”.
The police investigation into the Castle Point Borough Council elections began before polling day when a resident called Rupert Duke discovered his name had been added to a nomination form for a Ukip candidate called Lucy Parkin – who was a relative by marriage of the younger defendant.
Mr Duke told police he had never signed the form as he was a Tory voter “and would never have had anything to do with Ukip”.