Police have been instructed by Britain’s Electoral Commission to prepare for the prosecution of dozens of Conservative Party candidates and officials.
The party is currently facing claims it breached election spending rules in a series of key constituencies at last year’s General Election. If anyone were to be convicted, they could face a fine or even a jail sentence.
If any sitting Member of Parliament were found to be in breach they could also be barred from holding public office for three years, thus triggering a by-election.
A Channel 4 News investigation found that the accommodation costs of activists bussed around the country as part of the now infamous “BattleBus 2015” campaign were recorded as national expenditure.
The Daily Mail reports that the Electoral Commission is currently investigating whether these should have been recorded locally, and thus formed part of an individual candidate’s spending limit.
However, the commission said yesterday that its investigation will take at least another month, thus taking it beyond the one-year time limit for criminal proceedings to be launched. It will meet with police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on 4 May to ask to seek an extension to this limit.
Bob Posner, director of party and election finance at the commission said: “The police and the CPS both have the power to apply to the courts to extend the time limit on bringing criminal prosecutions for electoral offences to allow for full investigations to take place. We have requested that they consider doing this.”
Although no police investigation has yet been launched, the commission said it was “sensible for the criminal justice agencies to retain the ability to take action should appropriate evidence come to light as part of the commission’s own investigation”.
Last week, the Conservative Party admitted failing to declare £38,000 of expenses from the General Election, blaming an “administrative error” for failing to register the accommodation costs of activists in the BattleBus campaign.
BattleBus was the brainchild of so-called “Tatler Tory” Mark Clarke who was later accused of bullying activist Elliott Johnson who committed suicide last year. Mr Clarke denies any wrongdoing.
A spokeswoman for the CPS said: “We can confirm that we have received a letter from the Electoral Commission concerning the 2015 general election.
“The Electoral Commission has asked the CPS to consider making application(s) to the Court under section 176 of the Representations of the People Act 1983 to extend the time for bringing prosecutions.
“We are meeting with the Electoral Commission and police on 4 May and we will respond before the time limit expires.”