South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has slammed the use of millions of pounds of taxpayers money to pursue him in “a political show trial” in th aftermath of his acquittal on election expense fraud charges.
The MP, who was cleared by a jury at Southwark Crown Court today (January 9) of falsifying his election expenses for his 2015 campaign against then-Ukip leader Nigel Farage, says the legal action has put him “through hell.”
Mr Mackinlay, 52, had been accused of failing to declare more than £60,000 spent on staffing, hotels and advertising.
Prosecutors said he ignored strict spending limits to beat Mr Farage, and told Southwark Crown Court Mr Mackinlay’s victory could have been declared void had the true position been known.
But the jury acquitted him of two charges of knowingly making a false election expenses declaration under the Representation of the People Act 1983 after deliberating for 53 hours and 29 minutes, having retired on December 5.
Senior Tory party official Marion Little was found guilty of two counts of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007.
Following the verdict Mr Mackinlay said there needs to be more clarity on election law. He also levelled criticism at the Electoral Commission, the CPS and Kent Police for bringing the prosecution.
He said: “I have endured close to three years of pure hell since allegations were raised by media agencies, and Channel 4 particularly, in February 2016. The general election campaign in South Thanet in 2015 was a unique one, facing Nigel Farage, the then leader of UKIP. It was clear that UKIP had focused every resource available in support of their leader. It was not at all unexpected, from my standpoint, that the national Conservative Party would take an interest in the seat.
“I now have extreme concerns as to the clarity of election law, and the glaring grey area between national spending rules (under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000) and local spending rules (under the Representation of the People Act 1983). Candidates and Agents should never have to face the threat of criminal prosecution, with life-changing consequences, in the face of abstract law.
“The legal position had gone through various tests through the courts prior to trial. The Court of Appeal in front of the Lord Chief Justice in March 2018 concluded that election expenses can only be so if authorised by a candidate or agent. The Crown Prosecution Service progressed this point to the Supreme Court in July 2018, who ruled that election expenses should be so, if ‘used’ during the election, even if not authorised. After this trial, election law needs urgent clarification, but I have concerns whether the Electoral Commission as currently constructed is at all fit for purpose to assist in this task.
“I await a statement from the Electoral Commission, the CPS and Kent Police as to how they justify millions of pounds of taxpayers money in pursuing me in a political show trial. Undoubtedly Freedom of Information requests will show, in time, the true cost to the taxpayer.
“I would like to thank my wife, family and friends for their support throughout. My legal team told my accurate story to the Southwark jury who came to the correct conclusions.
“But my most sincere thanks go to my constituents of South Thanet, who were informed of my charge for election offences just six days before the 2017 General Election. They supported me with 25,262 votes and 50.8% of the vote: the highest number of votes for a Conservative in the history of the South Thanet seat.
“This lengthy trial has kept me away from serving them as fully as I’d like both in Parliament and in the Constituency. I now intend to put that right over the months and years ahead.”
The South Thanet constituency was considered a key seat in the 2015 general election as the Conservatives fought against the increasingly popular Ukip.
Mr Mackinlay won in 2015 with a majority of around 2,800 from an electorate of 70,000 and was also re-elected to Parliament in 2017 just a week after he was charged.