Tory MP accused of hiding expenses in campaign to defeat Nigel Farage, court hears

Alexandra Rogers
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Conservative MP For Thanet Attends Court
Mackinlay and his aides deny the charges (Source: Getty)

A Tory MP and two aides have been accused of being "complicit" in hiding their expenses in the 2015 general election to combat the prospect of electoral victory by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, a court has heard.

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay faces two charges of making a false election expenses declaration under the Representation of the People Act.

He stands accused with Marion Little, who is charged with three counts of aiding and abetting Mackinlay and his election manager, Nathan Gray. Gray is accused of two counts of making a false declaration.

The defendants deny the charges.

Aftab Jafferjee QC, for the prosecution, told Southwark Crown Court that Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) were "particularly concerned that Mackinlay should win this election" because of the rise of Ukip and its Farage, the party's leader at the time.

“In those pre-referendum days, Ukip was on the rise and the threat perceived by the Conservative party to its share of the vote only intensified in the lead-up to the election," Jafferjee said.

“When Farage said he would step down if he failed to win the South Thanet seat it was clear it was not going to be an ordinary election campaign.”

Mackinlay went on to win the South Thanet seat by more than 2,000 votes. After the victory Gray emailed Little to hail a "truly magnificent campaign".

Little, who was said to have taken "ownership" of Mackinlay's campaign, travelled to South Thanet with a press officer to stay in a hotel on 23 March to help the campaign several weeks before the election, which ended on 7 May. The prosecution said neither transport nor accommodation costs were included in the official returns.

Jafferjee said that when questioned by police, Little had said this was because it counted as national party campaign expenditure, because she was helping out Mackinlay in her "spare time" and her benefit to him was "collateral".

She then changed her account to say that she was in Kent not to promote Mackinlay but to defeat Ukip, Jaferjee said.

“Such an explanation is factually and logically incoherent. How can you defeat Nigel Farage unless Craig Mackinlay was elected?" Jafferjee said.

The prosecution alleged that the expenses returns for both the long campaign, running from December 2014 to March 2015, and the short campaign, from March to May, were "woefully incomplete and woefully inadequate, and deliberately so".

For the short campaign Mackinlay said he spent slightly below the £15,000 limit. For the long campaign, the MP spent £32,661, nearly £4,500 below the limit of £37,000.

"It is the prosecution’s case that neither the long return figure nor short return figure were true, and by some considerable margin. Each of the defendants were complicit in advancing false declarations."

He said there were spending limits in campaigning to ensure a "level playing field which is fundamental to the election process".

Jafferjee also told the court that on the return for the long campaign Gray's signature had been forged, which Gray admitted was true.

The trial continues.