Tory MP overspent on election campaign to beat Farage, court told

A Tory MP overspent on his 2015 general election campaign to beat then Ukip leader Nigel Farage, a court has heard.

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, 52, along with his election agent Nathan Gray, 29, and party activist Marion Little, 63, are alleged to have been complicit in submitting false expenditure declarations.

Southwark Crown Court heard the Conservative Party put extra resources into the campaign to win the Kent seat because, prior to the EU referendum, Ukip’s support was on the rise.

Nathan Gray
Nathan Gray (Victoria Jones/PA)

“Nigel Farage indicated he would step down as Ukip leader if he failed to win South Thanet, so it was clear this was not going to be any ordinary election campaign,” prosecutor Aftab Jafferjee QC told jurors.

He said the election became a “two-horse race” won by Mackinlay with a majority of around 2,800 in an electorate of 70,000.

The court heard Gray described the victory in an email to Little as a “truly magnificent election campaign”.

Mr Jafferjee said expenditure is “tightly regulated” over two stages – a short and a long campaign – and includes the costs involved to get the candidate elected.

Marion Little
Marion Little (Victoria Jones/PA)

This includes printing leaflets, putting up posters and staff costs, such as the employment of Gray as an election agent, he explained.

In South Thanet, the limit for the expenditure in the long campaign was just over £37,000, while for the short campaign it was just over £15,000.

Declarations made by Mackinlay and Gray came in below the limit, at £32,661 and £14,833 respectively.

But Mr Jafferjee said: “It is the prosecution case that neither of these declarations as to expenditure – the long return figure of just over £32,000 and the short return figure of just under £15,000 – were true, and by some considerable margin, though that does not matter.

“Each of these three defendants were complicit in advancing those false declarations.”

He told jurors a signature purporting to be Nathan Gray’s in relation to the long return had been “forged”.

Mackinlay, from Ramsgate, Kent, denies two charges of making a false election expenses declaration under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

Gray, of Hawkhurst, Kent, denies one charge of making a false election expenses declaration and a further charge of using a false instrument under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981.

Little, of Ware, Hertfordshire, denies three counts of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007.

They are all on unconditional bail.

The trial, which is expected to last until December, continues.

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