Prime Minister’s chief of staff Nick Timothy “provided assistance” to a controversial election campaign now under investigation by police, Channel 4 News has established.
Theresa May’s Downing Street aide is in the spotlight amid questions over the Conservatives, campaign to stop Nigel Farage winning a seat in Parliament at the last election.
Channel 4 News, which has been investigating the party’s election spending since February, has obtained new evidence suggesting a “crack team” of Tories including Mr Timothy were involved in Craig Mackinlay’s local campaign from a hotel in Ramsgate.
Kent Police and the Electoral Commission are currently investigating whether the Conservative Party broke the law by failing to properly declare tens of thousands of pounds in hotel bills, including approximately £14,000 at the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate where Mr Timothy stayed.
Election law states that any expenses incurred for “the promotion of the candidate” must be declared locally and are subject to tightly defined limits. None of the expenses incurred at the Royal Harbour Hotel were declared as local expenses by their candidate, Craig Mackinlay or his agent.
A Conservative spokesman confirmed to Channel 4 News that Mr Timothy was based in South Thanet and “assisted” the team, but said he was working as a “volunteer” on the “national” campaign.
The party told the programme Mr Timothy’s duties during the campaign included “briefing policy and political work on Home Office policy, briefing party spokespeople on Home Office policy, supporting Theresa May, and working on a variety of other matters for the Conservative Party during the campaign.”
But the spokesman did not explain why Mr Timothy needed to carry out those activities from a hotel in Ramsgate.
The new evidence obtained by Channel 4 News also suggests that Conservative staff staying at the Royal Harbour Hotel were working on Craig Mackinlay’s local campaign.
The programme has obtained a large number of press releases sent out on behalf of Mr Mackinlay by the former Conservative Party Head of Press, Henry Macrory. Mr Macrory was part of the team who were guests at the Royal Harbour.
The press releases are branded “Craig Mackinlay – Conservative Candidate for South Thanet”. They contain Mr Mackinlay’s twitter handle and Facebook page. All say “For further information please call Henry Macrory”. The press releases were promoted by his local agent.
The programme has also obtained emails showing Mr Macrory acting as Mr Mackinlay’s press officer. In one email sent in March 2016, Mr Macrory told local journalists: “I will be helping out with Craig Mackinlay’s media during the election campaign.
“Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can assist in any way. In the next few days or so I will start sending you a regular e-mail giving you an outline of what Craig will be up to during the week ahead.”
Channel 4 News can also reveal that another Conservative worker, Sam Armstrong, who stayed at the Royal Harbour Hotel was actively involved in Mr Mackinlay’s local campaign.
Mr Armstrong registered a website called “whereisnigel.com” which highlighted Mr Farage’s absence from the constituency during the campaign. The website was launched by Mr Mackinlay, and a press release was sent out by Mr Macrory to publicise it.
In 2016 Mr Armstrong was appointed as Mr Mackinlay’s chief-of-staff at Westminster. He was arrested in October in relation to an allegation of rape.
Channel 4 News has obtained correspondence between officers at the Serious Crime Directorate at Kent Police and Craig Mackinlay MP.
The letters, exchanged in March, reveal detectives were trying to establish whether Conservative staff staying at the Royal Harbour Hotel, were working on the local campaign.
Detective Sergeant Brian Gilham wrote to Mr Mackinlay asking: “Whether any of those persons who stayed at the Royal Harbour Hotel were engaged on the local campaign at any time, or whether they were engaged solely on the national campaign?”
Mr Mackinlay replied: “I can confirm that nobody staying at the hotel was subject to my, or my agent’s, control or direction, any national Conservative Party staff based in the Royal Harbour Hotel were part of a national campaign team and were engaged in activities at the direction of Conservative Central Headquarters.”
Mr Mackinlay failed to disclose that Mr Macrory, Mr Armstrong and Ms Little were all “engaged” in his local campaign.
Today Kent Police told Channel 4 News: “The Kent Police investigation into this complex matter is ongoing and officers continue to follow lines of enquiry. Therefore it would not be appropriate to comment further.
“A number of police officers continue to work on this investigation. Officers from Kent Police continue to work with the Electoral Commission as the investigation continues.”
In a statement, a spokesman for Craig Mackinlay said: “Our understanding is that there continues to be an ongoing investigation into the matters raised by the ITN report by both Kent Police and the Electoral Commission. As such it is inappropriate to comment at this time. We maintain that the South Thanet general election return was both lawful and proper.”