No Conservatives will face criminal charges despite the “inaccurate” reporting of local spending in a number of constituencies.
The Crown Prosecution Service said it had examined files from 14 police forces across England, and while there was evidence of inaccurate spending returns it said these issues did not “meet the test” for criminal prosecutions.
Under election spending rules, parties must disclose central party spending separately to local candidate spending and limits apply. The Conservatives are accused of failing to register “battle bus” campaigning costs in the 2015 general election as local spending in some constituencies, where the cost of the campaign including the battle bus would be over the local campaigning limit by tens of thousands of pounds.
In March, the Tories were fined a record £70,000 by the Electoral Commission, which criticised the party for failing to share details of their local and national spending until they were forced to by the courts. The Commission and CPS found various instances of inaccuracies in the party spending reports, but could not prove there was an dishonest intention behind the false figures.
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.”
The Conservatives described the allegations as “politically motivated”, but refused to comply with requests for information about their expenses by the Electoral Commission until forced to by the courts, in an expensive waste of public money.
An investigation remains open into the Conservative campaign in South Thanet where the party managed to see off a challenge from then Ukip leader Nigel Farage.