Tory scandal grows as second candidate linked to Sunak’s inner circle faces questions over election gambling

A second Tory candidate is under investigation for taking a bet on the election date

David Maddox
Political editor
Thursday 20 June 2024 09:32 BST
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The Gambling Commission is investigating a second Tory candidate for taking a bet on the date of the election who may have had inside knowledge ahead of Rishi Sunak’s surprise announcement.

The candidate understood to be under investigation is Laura Saunders, who is running for the Tories in Bristol North West and has worked for the party since 2015. It was also revealed that she is married to Tony Lee, the Conservative Party’s director of campaigns.

This follows an admission by one of the prime minister’s closest aides Craig Williams that he “took a flutter” on the election date just days before it was announced.

Two candidates linked to the prime minister’s inner circle are being investigated over betting on the election date
Two candidates linked to the prime minister’s inner circle are being investigated over betting on the election date (James Manning/PA Wire)

It has led to concerns of corruption in Mr Sunak’s inner circle using inside knowledge to profit from betting.

Asked about reports the Gambling Commission was investigating a second Conservative candidate for placing a bet on the date of the election, Mr Gove told the BBC: “If people have used inside information to place bets, that is deeply wrong.

“What I can’t do is sort of get too much into the detail of the case while an investigation is going on.

“But I can talk about the broad principle and you’re absolutely right, it’s reprehensible.”

Craig Williams served as the Prime Minister’s parliamentary private secretary and is under investigation over an alleged bet (UK Parliament/PA)
Craig Williams served as the Prime Minister’s parliamentary private secretary and is under investigation over an alleged bet (UK Parliament/PA) (PA Media)

Michael Gove has said it would be “reprehensible” for someone to use inside information to bet on the date of the General Election.

Mr Williams, who was Mr Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary, has since returned the money and apologised but is also under investigation from the Gambling Commisson.

But pressure is mounting for the Tories to take tougher action after it was reported a close protection officer for the prime minister was suspended by the Metropolitan Police and being investigated.

Ms Saunders has not commented on the allegation.

However, a Conservative Party spokesman told the BBC: “We have been contacted by the Gambling Commission about a small number of individuals. As the Gambling Commission is an independent body, it wouldn’t be proper to comment further, until any process is concluded.”

It is understood that the Met was contacted by the Gambling Commission on 14 June to be told that it was investigating alleged bets made by a police constable from the Met’s Royalty and Specialist Protection Command.

The Met told the BBC: “The matter was immediately referred to officers in the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, who opened an investigation, and the officer was also removed from operational duties.”

Responding to the latest allegations against Ms Saunders, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: "Rishi Sunak must find his backbone and suspend Laura Saunders from the Conservative party whilst this investigation is ongoing.

"It would be an utter disgrace if Conservative politicians were shown to be more focussed on turning a quick buck rather than the needs of the country.

"The Conservative party has proven itself utterly unfit for office. Voters are sick to the back teeth of this endless carousel of chaos, sleaze and scandal.

"People across the country are crying out for change and that is why in many areas they are backing the Liberal Democrats to get a strong local champion that will take their issues right to the heart of Parliament and not take them for granted any longer."

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