Karl McCartney, who is currently standing as the Conservative candidate in the upcoming general election for Lincoln, has been fully exonerated by the Crown Prosecution Service following an investigation into allegations of electoral fraud by the party.
McCartney has called for “heads to roll” at the Electoral Commission’s executive team and senior management group following the large-scale investigation by the CPS, involving 30 Conservatives.
The CPS was studying submissions from 14 police forces across the UK in response to allegations that the party’s spending in the 2015 general election campaign was mis-reported.
Accusations centralised on the party’s Battle Bus, which was shuttled into marginal constituencies including Lincoln.
The Electoral Commission has already imposed a fine of £70,000 on the party following its own enquiry into the allegations.
Karl McCarney, who had previously denied wrongdoing, said: “As I have stated many times before, the Conservative Party – and indeed all the main political parties – have always taken the view that its nationally directed battlebus campaigns are part of the national expense return.
“In these circumstances we would have no reason to declare battlebusses as a local expense.
“Indeed, I was very clearly told and, confirmed in writing, by CCHQ that the bus would be visiting Lincoln as part of CCHQ’s national spending.
“After the Majority Conservative Government was elected in 2015, both the Executive Team and the Senior Management Group of the taxpayer-funded Electoral Commission, such as their anti-Conservative Head of Regulatory Compliance, Louise Edwards, decided to engage in smearing the reputations of various Conservative politicians and their Agents.
“This whole saga amounts to no more than a politically-motivated witch-hunt.
“It is clear that those who lead the Electoral Commission who followed and allowed this action to take place are politically-motivated and biased – actions that have rendered this organisation wholly unfit-for-purpose.
“In these circumstances, the positions of the Executive Team and Senior Management Group – from the Chief Executive down to her side-kick, Louise Edwards, who has spearheaded many, if not all, of these one-sided enquiries – are now untenable and I believe that they should resign forthwith.
“If the leaders of the Electoral Commission do not take this most honourable course of action, as public servants paid for by the taxpayer, I, and no doubt my colleagues who have been victims of the Electoral Commission’s witch-hunt, will take every opportunity after the General Election to persuade the newly-elected Government to abolish this incompetent organisation and ensure that those who comprise the Electoral Commission’s Executive Team and Senior Management Group are never to play a role in our Country’s public life again.”
What the CPS said
Nick Vamos, CPS Head of Special Crime, said: “We have considered files of evidence from 14 police forces in respect of allegations relating to Conservative Party candidates’ expenditure during the 2015 General Election campaign.
“We considered whether candidates and election agents working in constituencies that were visited by the Party’s ‘Battle Bus’ may have committed a criminal offence by not declaring related expenditure on their local returns. Instead, as the Electoral Commission found in its report, these costs were recorded as national expenditure by the Party.
“We reviewed the files in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and have concluded the tests in the Code are not met and no criminal charges have been authorised.
“Under the Representation of the People Act, every candidate and agent must sign a declaration on the expenses return that to the best of their knowledge and belief it is a complete and correct return as required by law.
“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.
“The Act also makes it a technical offence for an election agent to fail to deliver a true return. By omitting any ‘Battle Bus’ costs, the returns may have been inaccurate. However, it is clear agents were told by Conservative Party headquarters that the costs were part of the national campaign and it would not be possible to prove any agent acted knowingly or dishonestly. Therefore we have concluded it is not in the public interest to charge anyone referred to us with this offence.
“Our evaluation of the evidence is consistent with that of the Electoral Commission. While the role of the Commission is to regulate political finances and campaign spending, the role of the CPS is to consider whether any individual should face criminal charges, which is a different matter with different consideration and tests.”