28 Apr 2016

Election expenses: Watchdog requests investigation extension

The elections watchdog has asked for more time to pursue possible criminal prosecutions regarding Tory election spending, as a summit is called to consider the evidence revealed by Channel 4 News.

Following months of investigations by Channel 4 News, the Electoral Commission has requested an extension to the time limit available to pursue possible criminal prosecutions regarding Conservative Party campaign spending returns.

Bob Posner, Director of Party and Election Finance & Legal Counsel at the Electoral Commission said, “The police and the CPS both have the power to apply to the Courts to extend the time limit on bringing criminal prosecutions for electoral offences to allow for full investigations to take place. We have requested that they consider doing this.”

Representatives of the Electoral Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service will hold also hold a summit with a number of police forces to discuss the Conservative Party’s election expenses next week.

The Channel 4 News investigation into Conservative election expenses has so far covered 16 police force areas.

The summit follows a series of allegations made by this programme of thousands of pounds of undeclared or improperly declared campaign spending during last year’s General Election and three key by-elections in 2014.

In a statement, Devon and Cornwall Police have confirmed that it along with other forces have been invited to the meeting, which is expected to take place on Wednesday although the time and date are yet to be confirmed.

A Police Spokesperson said: “Devon and Cornwall Police, plus representatives from other forces in which constituencies are believed to have been affected, have been invited to a meeting in relation to the Election Expenses of the Conservative Party, along with representatives from the Electoral Commission and the CPS.”

Channel 4 News has raised questions about election spending in 30 constituencies in the General Election and a further 3 in by-elections. These constituencies are covered by 16 different police forces.

The meeting follows an investigation by Channel 4 News into the Conservative Party’s Battle Bus campaign during last year’s general election, and other undeclared election spending in South Thanet and three by-elections in 2014.

Battle Bus spending

Last week Channel 4 News broadcast new evidence that the Conservative Party had not declared more than £38,201 in hotel bills in relation to the Battle Bus campaign.

The Conservative Party insists all its election spending was declared in accordance with the law. But last week Prime Minister David Cameron admitted the money had not been declared to the Electoral Commission because of an “administrative error”.

Channel 4 News also revealed new e-mails, documents and photographs showing the Battle Bus campaigners targeted 29 key seats in the South West, Midlands and the North which the Conservatives needed to hold or take to win the election.

The documents provided evidence that the campaigners on the busses were engaged in local campaigning on behalf of specific candidates.

It comes on top of £99,012 worth of hotel receipts uncovered by Channel 4 News for hotel bills in three key by-elections in 2014, Newark Upon Trent, Clacton, and Rochester & Strood, that were seemingly never declared to authorities.

The investigation found 770 hotel rooms were booked under the name or home address of a single Conservative Party staffer.

This programme has also raised questions over more than £18,000 of hotel bills in Margate and Ramsgate that were declared as party rather than candidate expenses. The seat saw the Conservative Party’s fight Ukip party leader Nigel Farage.

Almost £1,000 for a hostel used to house a bus load of activists who visited the constituency, was never declared.