What we know about the Tory election betting scandal

Rishi Sunak has withdrawn support from candidates  implicated in the election betting row. (PA)
Rishi Sunak has withdrawn support from candidates implicated in the election betting row. (PA) (Benjamin Cremel/PA Wire)

The general election betting scandal threatens to harm the Conservatives even further in the polls next week after it emerged that up to 15 Tory candidates and officials are linked to the scandal.

According to BBC’s Newsnight, the individuals are being looked at by the Gambling Commission over alleged betting on the timing of the 4 July poll. The regulator will be carrying out interviews this week, the BBC added.

It comes as fresh polling has suggested that the story is denting the Tories in the polls, with the party dropping 2%, according to Survation.

Meanwhile, a Cabinet minister and Labour candidate have also become caught up in fresh betting allegations.

Here is what we know – and don't know – about the Tory election betting scandal.

The party’s chief data officer Nick Mason is understood to be taking a leave of absence amid claims he placed bets on the election date, along with director of campaigning Tony Lee.

Lee’s wife is Saunders, the Tory candidate for Bristol North West who is also under investigation by the Gambling Commission along with Williams, who was a parliamentary aide to Sunak.

A fifth person, a police protection officer who is part of Sunak's security team, was also arrested on Monday last week “on suspicion of misconduct in public office", the Metropolitan Police said.

The force said it had been contacted by the Gambling Commission, which said it had been investigating "alleged bets made by a police constable from the Met’s Royalty and Specialist Protection Command, which were related to the timing of the general election".

https://www.laurasaunders.uk/
Laura Saunders, the Tory candidate for Bristol North West, is 'considering legal action against the BBC'. (Laurasaunders.uk) (Laurasaunders.uk)

Mason allegedly placed small bets, each worth less than £100 each, but stood to win thousands of pounds based on the odds, the Sunday Times reported. A spokesman for Mason told the newspaper that he denies wrongdoing.

The scandal first came to light on 12 June when it wasreported Williams, Sunak's parliamentary private secretary who became an MP in 2019, placed a £100 bet at a Ladbrokes branch in his Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr constituency on 19 May.

With 5/1 odds on the election date at the time, Williams stood to win £600. Sunak made his surprise snap election announcement on 22 May.

Following The Guardian's report, Williams released a statement saying: "I put a flutter on the general election some weeks ago. This has resulted in some routine inquiries and I confirm I will fully cooperate with these. I don’t want it to be a distraction from the campaign, I should have thought how it looks.”

https://members.parliament.uk/member/4438/portrait
Craig Williams said he wanted to be 'totally transparent' about his bet and told the BBC he'd made a 'huge error of judgment'. (UK Parliament) (UK Parliament/David Woolfall)

The Guardian reported a red flag was raised automatically by Ladbrokes, as the bet had been placed by a “politically exposed person”. Williams later told a BBC reporter that he had “clearly made a huge error of judgment”.

The Gambling Commission subsequently asked all bookmakers to search their records for anyone who stood to win over £199 by betting on an election in July.

On 20 June, the BBC reported Saunders was also being investigated by the Gambling Commission.

In a statement released on Saunders' behalf, her solicitor said the BBC’s story was "premature and is a clear infringement of Ms Saunders’ privacy rights. She is considering legal action against the BBC and any other publishers who infringe her privacy rights.”

The Conservative Party then confirmed Lee had taken a leave of absence from Tory HQ, followed by Mason.

On Tuesday, 25 July, the Metropolitan Police said a further five officers were under investigation by the Gambling Commission – bringing the total number of people implicated in the scandal to 10.

The Met said these officers are based in the royalty and specialist command, the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command and the central west basic command unit, adding that none of them work in a close protection role.

“The Gambling Commission continues to investigate these matters. The officers have not been arrested but the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards has been informed," the force said. “Decisions on whether they will be subject to any restrictions will be taken in due course.”

Betting based on inside information is potentially a breach of Section 42 of the Gambling Act, with the offence of "cheating" potentially carrying a two-year prison sentence, legal experts told the Financial Times. However, there is little legal precedent on how the courts would handle inside betting in politics.

The Conservative Party are on 18% in the latest Survation poll. (Survation)
The Conservative Party are on 18% in the latest Survation poll. (Survation)

The scandal does appear to be cutting through to the public, too. A More In Common survey showed more than 70% of voters believe the scandal has reflected poorly on the Conservatives in a new poll.

Meanwhile, a poll by Survation for Good Morning Britain has found that the Tories have dropped to 18% as stories of the scandal continue to hit the headlines. The poll also found that ’conduct of government’ has become the second most important issue for voters behind the cost of living.

It is not known if any other candidates or officials from the Tory party placed bets on the election date, though Sunak has said he is "not aware" of anyone else facing investigation.

Former chancellor George Osborne told his Political Currency podcast earlier in June that about 40 people were aware of the 4 July date in advance.

Sunak ruled out himself and his family members being the subject of the investigation and said he had never placed a bet on politics while serving as an MP.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking during the launch of the Scottish Conservative party's General Election manifesto at the Apex Grassmarket Hotel in Edinburgh. Picture date: Monday June 24, 2024.
Rishi Sunak was under pressure to take a tougher stance on the scandal. (Alamy) (Jane Barlow, PA Images)

The Met Police has not named the officer arrested in connection with the inquiry, though police generally do not name suspects publicly until they have been charged with an offence. It has also not named the five other officers.

The Met has also been forced to deny that it has been behind the leaking of names to journalists. A source close to the Cabinet Office told the Daily Telegraph the Gambling Commission is telling the Met “and then almost instantly these names are finding their way to journalists”. "The suspicion very much is, it’s the Met,” the source said.

And while we have some indication of the money put down by Williams and Mason, we don't know how many bets were allegedly made by Saunders and Lee, how many bookmakers are involved nor their alleged value.

Scotland secretary Alister Jack has become embroiled in the betting scandal after he revealed he had put three wagers on the timing of the election. However, he denied having broken any rules.

Jack said he had in April put £20 at odds of 5 to 1 on an election being held between July and September, but that he had no knowledge of when it would be called until the day that Sunak fired the starting gun on 22 May. It came after the BBC reported that he had told the broadcaster he made more than £2,000 from betting on the date, but later dismissed the comments as a “joke”.

London, UK. 19th Mar, 2024. Alistair Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland, at Downing Street for a Cabinet meeting. Credit: Mark Thomas/Alamy Live News
Scotland secretary Alistair Jack has insisted he had not broken any rules. (Alamy) (Mark Thomas)

In a statement released late on Tuesday, the minister said: “Following reports today I want to be absolutely clear I have not breached any gambling rules. As I have said previously, I placed no bets in May and am not under investigation by the Gambling Commission.”

Meanwhile, Labour was also dragged into the row on Tuesday, with the party suspending its candidate Kevin Craig after it emerged he had bet that he would lose to the Tories in the contest for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich. Craig said he was “deeply sorry” for what he described as a “stupid error of judgment”.

He will still appear on the ballot paper as nominations are closed, but Labour said it had acted immediately to uphold the “highest standards” in its candidates “as the public rightly expects from any party hoping to serve”.

Labour has since handed back £100,000 in donations it received from Craig, according to the PA news agency.


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