Tory MP’s election to seat contested by Farage ‘could have been declared void’

A Tory MP’s election to Parliament could have been declared void after he overspent on his campaign to beat Nigel Farage, a court has heard.

Craig Mackinlay, 52, along with his election agent Nathan Gray, 29, and party activist Marion Little, 63, are accused of deliberately submitting “woefully inaccurate” expenditure returns.

Their trial at Southwark Crown Court has heard that during the 2015 general election campaign, the Conservative Party put in extra resources to win the seat in South Thanet on May 7 in a “two-horse race” with then-Ukip leader Mr Farage.

Nathan Gray
Nathan Gray (Victoria Jones/PA)

Declared spending on the campaign came in under the strict £52,000 limit set for the Kent constituency, but prosecutors allege up to £66,600 was not declared.

Prosecutor Aftab Jafferjee QC told jurors on Wednesday: “This was a very important seat for the Conservative Party to win and Mr Mackinlay had to be elected.

“In seeking to ensure the success of the Conservative Party’s candidate and the defeat of Nigel Farage, we submit that proper regard to the limits of expenditure imposed by law was simply abandoned.

“Each of these three defendants were complicit in the means deployed to achieve that end.

“Had the true position been declared, Craig Mackinlay’s election would have been at the risk of being declared void.”

Marion Jones
Marion Little (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mackinlay, an accountant by profession, was elected to Parliament for the first time after he won the seat with a majority of around 2,800 in an electorate of 70,000.

In a police interview, the MP, who had been in politics for more than 20 years, attempted to “distance himself from Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) staff and volunteers drafted in to help with his campaign”, the court heard.

But the prosecutor said he was “fully aware” of their assistance to him.

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 and the trial continues.

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