Tory MPs will not face criminal charges over election spending investigation

Conservative party election campaign bus outside the Britvic bottling factory in Leeds Ian Hinchliffe / Rossparry.co.uk
Conservative party election campaign bus outside the Britvic bottling factory in Leeds Ian Hinchliffe / Rossparry.co.uk

Conservative party candidates will not face criminal charges as a result of investigations into allegations into election spending fraud, the Crown Prosecution has confirmed

The organisation said there was “insufficient evidence” of criminal activity during the 2015 general election campaign, and “no criminal charges have been authorised”.

The announcement follows investigations by at least 15 police forces across the UK, into claims that spending relating to the Conservative battlebus campaign was declared incorrectly.

Falsely recording election spending is an offence under the Representation of the People’s Act 1983.

Confirming the decision, CPS head of special crime Nick Vamos said the agency had considered files of evidence from 14 police forces, including West Yorkshire Police, Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Gloucestershire and Kent.

He said this evidence had been reviewed “in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors” and that “no criminal charges have been authorised”.

“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,” he 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.

“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.

“Therefore we have concluded it is not in the public interest to charge anyone referred to us with this offence.”

In March the Conservative Party was fined a record £70,000 by the Electoral Commission for “numerous failures” in reporting its expenses for the 2015 General Election, and three by-elections in 2014.

Commission chairman Sir John Holmes said the Tories’ failure to follow the rules “undermined voters’ confidence in our democratic processes” and said there was a risk political parties were seeing such fines as “a cost of doing business”.

The CPS said one file from Kent Police was only received recently and remains under consideration.

Mr Vamon said the organisation will announce its decision “as soon as possible once we have considered the evidence”.

Responding to the announcement, Conservative Party chairman Patrick McLoughlin said: “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.

“These were politically motivated and unfounded complaints that have wasted police time. We are glad that this matter is finally resolved.

“A number of false and malicious claims continue to be spread on the internet. People should be aware that making false claims about a candidate’s personal character and conduct is an electoral offence, as well as being defamatory.

“Notwithstanding these false claims, Conservatives want 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.”