A Tory aide who worked as an election agent for South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay in 2015 has been cleared of falsifying an election expenses claim.
Nathan Gray, 29, of Hawkhurst, Kent, looked visibly relieved and emotional as the jury at Southwark Crown Court delivered their verdict today (December 13) after several days of deliberations.
He was found not guilty of one charge of making a false election expenses declaration.
Over the course of the trial, which began in October, he has appeared in the dock alongside Mr Mackinlay and Conservative Party worker Marion Little.
Mackinlay, 52, denies two charges of making a false election expenses declaration under the Representation of the People Act 1983.
Little, 63, of Ware, Hertfordshire, denies three counts of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007.
The jury have yet to reach a verdict on the counts facing both Ms Little and Mr Mackinlay.
Prosecutors allege that Mr Mackinlay, Ms Little and Mr Gray “simply abandoned” expenditure rules to win the fight for the seat – an allegation that Mr Gray has now been acquitted of.
The case centres around claims that hotel costs and other expenditure for activists and party workers were recorded as national election spending rather than local, allegedly to ensure that strict spending limits were not breached.
During the campaign, South Thanet was visited by a number of high-profile Tory figures, including Theresa May, Boris Johnson and former footballer and activist Sol Campbell.
Jurors were told that Mr Mackinlay, Mr Gray and Ms Little were warned by party colleagues that the campaign was getting “perilously close” to breaching legal spending limits and they faced a “real prospect of a legal challenge from Farage” if they slipped up.
Declared spending on the campaign came in under the strict £52,000 limit set for the MP’s constituency.
However, prosecutors allege that about £60,000 spent on staffing, accommodation, advertising and other costs for Mr Mackinlay’s campaign was not declared.
The parliamentary seat was eventually won by Mr Mackinlay with a majority of around 2,800 in an electorate of 70,000.
Last year, Mr Mackinlay held on to the seat with an increased majority of 6,387 – a week after it was announced he would be prosecuted.
The jury has now retired and will continue considering the verdicts for the counts facing both Mr Mackinlay and Marion Little in the new year.
Southwark Crown Court heard how the jury will resume their deliberations from 11am on January 2. They began discussions on the charges on December 5.
By Georgina Stubbs, Press Association