Tory MP's attempt to block police investigation into election fraud allegations fails

Judge says election results could be declared void in the event of a conviction

Jon Stone
Wednesday 01 June 2016 17:40 BST
A new Conservative youth group was widely ridiculed for its use of social media
A new Conservative youth group was widely ridiculed for its use of social media

An attempt by a Conservative MP to block a police investigation into allegations his party broke election spending rules has failed.

Kent Police last week applied for an extension of the 12-month statutory limit into investigations of potential breaches of the Representation of the People Act at the 2015 general election.

An investigation by Channel 4 News and the Daily Mail newspaper alleged that the Tories broke spending limits in key marginal seats at the last general election.

Strict spending limits are put in place to ensure that parties with wealthy financial backers do not have an unfair advantage over others.

It is alleged that in South Thanet, accommodation for bussed-in activists was not properly recorded locally and that this led to spending limits being broken by the Conservatives.

However Craig Mackinlay, the Tory MP for the constituency, and his election agent Nathan Gray, launched a legal bid to argue that no extension should be granted to the police for the investigation.

Their legal team argued that no special circumstances are in effect and that no extension should therefore be given. If they had suceeded, the investigation into the marginal seat would have effectively been stopped in its tracks.

Craig Mackinlay speaks to the press after being declared the winner of the South Thanet seat (AFP)

Folkestone Magistrates Court however granted Kent Police the extension on Wednesday afternoon. The force will now have an additional year to look into the allegations.

“There is a very significant public interest in the matter being fully investigated,” said district judge Justin Barron, according to local newspaper Kent Messenger.

“The consequences of a conviction would be of a local and national significance with the potential for election results being declared void.”

There are questions about Tory spending in 29 key constituencies in the General Election, and Channel 4 has alleged that £38,000 spent on accommodation for visiting Tory activists was undeclared locally.

The party says the expenses were instead recorded nationally due to an administrative error.

Mr McKinlay won the South Thanet seat by 38 per cent to Ukip leader Nigel Farage's 32 per cent. Mr Mckinlay and Mr Gray have not commented on the allegations.

Separate complaints have been raised about letters sent in David Cameron's name to voters, in which local areas were mentioned. The Conservatives say these letters were paid for from national expenditure because they did not mention the names of specific candidates.

Former Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders, who lost his Torbay seat to Conservative MP Kevin Foster in 2015 told the BBC that such letters must be a local cost, not a national expense”.

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