10 May 2017

No charges for Tories over Battlebus 2015 election expenses investigation

Conservative MPs and agents will face no charges over election expenses allegations relating to the party’s 2015 Battlebus campaign, the Crown Prosecution Service has said.

The CPS said: “We reviewed the files in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and have concluded the tests in the Code are not met and no criminal charges have been authorised.”

Prosecutors are still considering whether they will pursue charges relating to one file from Kent Police, understood to relate to Craig Mackinlay who was elected as MP for South Thanet in 2015.

Fleet of coaches

The allegations were highlighted by a year-long Channel 4 News investigation into the accuracy of election expenses returns, including the Conservative Party’s ‘Battlebus’ campaign, which used a fleet of coaches to parachute volunteer activists into 29 key marginal constituencies in the final ten days of the election campaign.

Nick Vamos, CPS Head of Special Crime, said: “We have considered files of evidence from 14 police forces in respect of allegations relating to Conservative Party candidates’ expenditure during the 2015 General Election campaign.

“We considered whether candidates and election agents working in constituencies that were visited by the Party’s ‘Battle Bus’ may have committed a criminal offence by not declaring related expenditure on their local returns.

“Instead, as the Electoral Commission found in its report, these costs were recorded as national expenditure by the Party.

Read the full timeline of the Election Expenses investigation - every report, the documents and profiles of all the key characters.

‘Unfounded complaints’

Conservative Party Chairman Patrick McLoughlin said in a statement: “These were the politically motivated and unfounded complaints that have wasted police time.”

“After a very thorough investigation, we are pleased that the legal authorities have confirmed what we believed was the case all along: that these Conservative candidates did nothing wrong,” he said.

He also said that the party has sought to “strengthen election rules to safeguard electoral integrity – in light of the real and proven cases of electoral fraud exposed in Tower Hamlets in 2015”.

The CPS said: “Although there is evidence to suggest the returns may have been inaccurate, there is insufficient evidence to prove to the criminal standard that any candidate or agent was dishonest”

“The Act also makes it a technical offence for an election agent to fail to deliver a true return. By omitting any ‘Battle Bus’ costs, the returns may have been inaccurate. However, it is clear agents were told by Conservative Party headquarters that the costs were part of the national campaign and it would not be possible to prove any agent acted knowingly or dishonestly.”

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he was “interested and surprised” by the CPS decision, and would examine the detail of it.

“Our election laws must be enforced and must be adhered to, there are strict spending limits for a reason, so that money can’t buy power, only votes in the ballet box should be able to get power.”

Kent Police

The CPS are still considering whether to pursue charges regarding one file received from Kent Police, understood to relate to Craig Mackinlay, who was elected MP for South Thanet in 2015.

The Conservative Party has said that all local spending was filed in accordance with the law.

These allegations still under consideration were revealed by Channel 4 News and investigated over the past year.

“One file, from Kent Police, was only recently received by the CPS, and remains under consideration,” said Nick Vamos, CPS Head of Special Crime.

“No inference as to whether any criminal charge may or may not be authorised in relation to this file should be drawn from this fact and we will announce our decision as soon as possible once we have considered the evidence in this matter.”

Electoral Commission report

In March, the Conservative Party was fined a record £70,000 and its former treasurer reported to the police following a report by the Electoral Commission into its national election expenses.

Today, Karl McCartney, on behalf of Conservative MPs concerned, called on the bosses of the Electoral Commission to resign.

He said it was “politically motivated and biased” and that “no doubt my colleagues who have been victims of the Electoral Commission’s witch-hunt, will take every opportunity after the General Election to persuade the newly-elected government to abolish this incompetent organisation”.

The Electoral Commission’s investigation and report into the Conservative party’s national spending – launched after a series of reports by Channel 4 News over the past year – found “significant failures by the party” to report spending in the 2015 General Election and in three by-elections in 2014.

The Electoral Commission today said that the CPS decision is “consistent with that of the Commission, which concluded that the Conservative Party’s spending return was incomplete and inaccurate, as it contained spending that should have been included in the candidates’ return”.