3 May 2016

Election expenses: Tory PCC candidate under scrutiny

The Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Devon and Cornwall has come under fire for allegedly failing to properly declare election expenses in 2015.

  • Conservative candidate for PCC in Devon and Cornwall drawn into Conservative election spending scandal
  • Devon and Cornwall Police reportedly investigating 2015 Battle Bus visits
  • Formal police complaint lodged by ousted Lib Dem MP for Torbay
  • Current Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall calls for matter to be “cleared” before Thursday’s election
  • If elected, Alison Hernandez will have influence on £275m police budget and power to hire and fire chief constable
  • Hernandez was previously agent for Kevin Foster MP and signed spending return with seemingly undeclared expenses
  • Investigation comes as Electoral Commission, Crown Prosecution Service and representatives of 15 police forces meet to discuss allegations
  • Hernandez refuses to answer questions from Channel 4 News

The Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Devon and Cornwall has come under fire for allgedly failing to properly declare election expenses in 2015.

Alison Hernandez is standing for election for the £85,000 a year role. If elected she will have power over Devon and Cornwall’s budget of £275m and will be able to “directly appoint or dismiss” the Chief Constable.

Prior to being a candidate for PCC, Hernandez was election agent to Kevin Foster MP, who won his Torbay seat in 2015.

She was legally responsible for filing Mr Foster’s spending return.

That return seemingly failed to declare up to £2,460 spent bringing Conservative Party activists to Torbay to campaign specifically for Mr Foster.

Devon and Cornwall police have reportedly launched a formal investigation into the Battle Bus visits and will take part in a “summit” with the Electoral Commission, the Crown Prosecution and 14 other police forces to discuss the claims.

Tonight, the current Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall has told Channel 4 News he’s concerned about the allegations.

Tony Hogg told Channel 4 News:

“If there is an allegation or a number of allegations on one or more candidates for this election, I’m hoping that issue can be cleared in time before people go to the vote.

“Because, quite apart from the confusion that would occur if someone was voted into this role and then misbehaviour is unearthed, the waste of opportunity time, the waste of money – do we re-run an election?

I simply dread to think of the opportunity cost and the real cost of getting this wrong through some act of impropriety which is discovered after the election.”

On the 29th of April 2015, almost 50 Conservative activists spent the day campaigning for Mr Foster in Torbay.

The activists were put up at the Travelodge in Glastonbury at a cost of over £1,300 a night. Those costs of which were never declared to the Electoral Commission or in Mr Foster’s local declaration.

On the 28th of April Hernandez tweeted: “Got 50 volunteers arriving tomorrow for @kevin_j_foster”

The following day activists posted tweets and photos confirming they had campaigned for Foster. One said: “At Preston Conservative Club after a hard day canvassing for @kevin_j_foster and Co. #VoteConservative”

Hernandez did declare the costs of printing 2,276 local “canvas cards” described as “Battle Bus Torbay”.

But the costs of actually distributing them were never declared.

The defeated Liberal Democrat Adrian Sanders told Channel 4 News:

“This is one of the most serious electoral law questions we have had to consider since limits on spending were originally put in which stopped candidates treating back in the 18th century. It is that serious.”

“All of the agents in all 30 seats have some questions to answer. Politicians who claim to be accountable and transparent should go on camera to answer those questions and if they don’t, they don’t do themselves any favours.”

“I’d like the Conservatives to come clean and candidates and the public will lose confidence in PCCs and in democracy.”

Ms Hernandez refused to answer questions from Channel 4 News despite repeated requests for an interview.

A statement issued by the Conservative Party on her behalf said: “As the Election Agent, I made a return of election expenses as required by law. The Party’s national bus tour was authorised and paid for by CCHQ, was intended to promote the Party’s success in the General Election and did not form part of the local election expenses.”