MP cleared of expenses fraud calls for reform of ‘sketchy’ electoral law
A Conservative MP cleared of expenses fraud during the 2015 general election has called for the “confused and sketchy” system to be reformed.
Craig Mackinlay, who represents South Thanet, was speaking in the Commons for the first time since being acquitted at Southwark Crown Court following a three-year legal battle.
“It’s surely unacceptable that innocent people are dragged through the courts at enormous expense to the public purse on the back of abstract law,” he said.
“The opportunity for ne’er-do-wells to get involved in election processes and cause prosecutions are surely obvious.
“Electoral Commission guidance is confused and it is sketchy.
“Surely it is in the interest of the House and all members that we have clear and unambiguous law, and I hope that a campaign for clarity in this area will be supported across this House.”
Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom said she was “delighted” Mr Mackinlay had been cleared, adding: “My heart goes out to him for the difficult time he has had in recent years in clearing his name.
“It has become apparent from broader legal proceedings that election law on spending in 2015 was fragmented and unclear, with even the courts divided on the interpretation of the law.
“The government will be taking steps to ensure there’s a clearer and transparent framework in future elections working alongside the Electoral Commission.
“It’s in everybody’s interests that we get this right and the government is committed to protecting and strengthening electoral integrity.”
The charges against Mr Mackinlay related to his efforts to defeat then-UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the battle for the Kent seat.
He was cleared by a jury of two charges of knowingly making a false election expenses declaration under the Representation of the People Act 1983.
But Marion Little, a senior Conservative official, was convicted of falsifying election expenses.
The 63-year-old, who has worked for the party since 1974, was “carried away by her conviction” that beating UKIP was an “overwhelmingly important political objective”, the judge said.
Prosecutors said more than £60,000 in staffing, hotels and advertising was undeclared during the Tory campaign, with Little said to have effectively run the party’s campaign.
She was given a nine-month suspended jail sentence and ordered to pay £5,000 towards the prosecution’s “very substantial” costs.
Mr Justice Eadis said it was only because Little was caring for husband, who is seriously ill with cancer, that she avoided jail.