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'A cloud over British politics': Tories won't face criminal charges for Battlebus expenses

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was “surprised” at the decision not to press charges.

Image: Stefan Rousseau PA Wire/PA Images

THE CROWN PROSECUTION Service has determined that Conservative Party candidates will not face criminal charges in relation to breaches of expenses rules during campaigning for the 2015 general election.

The case centered on whether these candidates broke the law by recording money spent on busloads of party activists sent to key areas as part of the party’s national spending, as opposed to the more limited local budgets.

It had been argued that labelling the expenses under the party’s national budget breached rules, and allowed the party to spend far more than its rivals to win key constituencies.

In March, the elections watchdog issued the Conservatives with its largest ever fine – £70,000 (€80,000) – for misreporting expenses for the 2015 general election and three by-elections in 2014.

Despite this, however, the CPS has decided that the Tories will not face criminal charges.

Nick Vamos, head of special crime at the CPS, said: “It is an offence to knowingly make a false declaration. In order to bring a charge, it must be proved that a suspect knew the return was inaccurate and acted dishonestly in signing the declaration.

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.

Vamos acknowledged that, as it was “clear agents were told by Conservative Party headquarters that the costs were part of the national campaign”, it would not be possible to prove any one person acted knowingly or dishonestly.

One file, received by Kent Police separately but on the same matter, is still under consideration.

“Cloud over British politics”

While Theresa May has said the decision not to pursue charges demonstrates the candidates had done nothing wrong, opposition leaders on the campaign trail ahead of next month’s general election attacked the Conservatives today.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was “surprised” by the result.

While stressing the independence of the CPS, he said: “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.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, meanwhile, said that while the Conservatives had stayed “on the right side of the law”, they had “driven a battlebus and horses right the way through the spirit of it”.

He added that the affair had left a ”cloud hanging over British politics”.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said that the fact that the CPS dropped the case due to an inability to prove intent still means that there are “big questions to answer”:

Notwithstanding the fact the CPS say there is not the evidence, the high bar of evidence, to prove criminal intent, there are lots to suggest that the Tories were “at it” when it came to how they were allocating election expenses in some constituencies.

Conservative party chairman Patrick McLoughlin welcomed the outcome, saying the allegations were “politically motivated and unfounded”.

“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.

With reporting from AFP - © – AFP 2017

Read: May Day for Theresa as UKIP wiped out and Labour pains for Jeremy Corbyn

Read: EU President says the English language ‘is losing importance in Europe’

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Sean Murray

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