South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay acquitted of election expenses fraud

Craig Mackinlay

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has been acquitted of falsifying his election expenses for his 2015 campaign against then-Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

But senior Tory party official Marion Little, who was said to have effectively run the campaign to fend off the challenge from Mr Farage, was found guilty of two counts of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007. She was cleared of a third count.

Little’s conviction came after the jury at Southwark Crown Court was told “the law was simply abandoned” as the Tories set out to ensure victory over Mr Farage.

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 a jury at today (January 9) 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.

Mr Mackinlay’s election agent Nathan Gray, 29, from Hawkhurst, was earlier acquitted of making a false election expenses declaration.

The court heard the South Thanet constituency in Kent 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 re-elected to Parliament in 2017 just a week after he was charged.

The prosecution case centred around claims that hotel costs and other expenditure for activists and party workers were recorded as national election spending rather than local, to ensure that strict spending limits for individual candidates were not breached.

During the campaign, South Thanet was visited by a number of high-profile Tory figures, including Theresa May, George Osborne, Boris Johnson and former footballer Sol Campbell.

Declared spending came in under the £52,000 limit set for the constituency, but prosecutors claimed more than £60,000 was not declared.

Mr Mackinlay told jurors his aides had been cautious over the election budget, fearing a challenge by Mr Farage.

“Of any seat in the country, this would be the one looked at and pored over very carefully,” he said.

He insisted he had little control over spending and described a “battle bus” of volunteers drafted in by Conservative Party HQ as a “total waste of time”.

“I was just a small cog in a big gearbox,” he added.

Little, 63, of Ware in Hertfordshire was handed a nine-month sentence, suspended for two years.

Report by Press Association

15 Comments

  1. Well, we all knew Craig would get off with it.
    Marion Little is looking at a maximum sentence of 12 months but it is more than likely she will get a suspended sentence in any case. This court case has been a huge expense for little gain. It seems it is ok to fiddle the books in politics !

  2. How ironic that the only defendant who gains financially by winning the seat is the only person found not guilty. Those who helped him to win the seat are the ones left carrying the can. Those in the Tory HQ who were behind it all have not even been brought to justice. It took the jury 53 hours to decide, 53 hours???? I wonder if they were all on Universal Credit and had nothing better to do.

  3. Well well well, what a surprise, did anyone think that he would be found guilty? Perhaps the charge should have been belonging to a political party that has abused the law, which is clearly what took place . The whole system is stacked in their favour, nothing new there.
    It doesn’t matter much in my view as once the people of Thanet realise that he and his party have once again hoodwinked their constituents, he and the Tories will be sent back to their grubby holes from where all this was planned. Wake up Thanet…please, you’ve been given enough evidence to show what the Tories are all about!

  4. If Marion Little is guilty of encouraging and assisting an offence – who committed the actual offence? If it is agreed that such an offence was committed will there be further investigations and charges?

  5. Sounds a bit like there are a few bitter heads there in Thanet. Sad that is. From our perspective we’re very pleased that justice has been well served by Mr. Mackinlay’s acquittal.

  6. The expenses limits for elections should be adhered to. They are there for a reason: to uphold a fair vote and ensure democracy can’t be bought. If there are no consequences for breaking the fundamental rules of an election, ie the candidate keeps his seat and no one is even guilty of the crime (Little is guilty of ‘assisting’) then what safeguards are there to stop elections being bought? What incentive is there to ‘fight fair’ at election time? This is not good news for Thanet or for the country as a whole.

  7. I agree with Richard H Scott above regarding Mr MacKinlay’s acquittal. A long trial and very long deliberation by the jury found him not guilty. My question is simply that -if the jury can convict Marion Little for “encouraging and assisting” – we should be made aware of who she encouraged and assisted. Not either of her co-defendants – so who was it?

    • Had to come from up high-one has to think the inexperienced young lad was set up as the patsy to take the fall-why else would they put somebody with zero experience in charge of such a high profile campaign if he wasn’t either pliable to the demands put on him by experienced campaigners, or at the least the person overseeing if they got rumbled?

  8. Marion Little was found guilty of “encouraging or assisting an offence” The cost to the tax payer has been validated as a serious crime was committed. The question remains however, who committed the offence that she was found guilty of assisting?

    • As I have asked twice above. Although, in law, you would not need to identify co-conspirators for a charge of conspiracy to stick, this particular conviction rests on an offence having been committed, which Marion Little apparently encouraged or assisted. So ‘who dunnit???’

  9. As extra expenses were used, over and above that allowed, does it mean Craig Mackinlay won due to an unfair advantage? That is, more money was spent than his opponents were allowed to spend, so did he win by default, and should there be a re-run of the election?

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