Gloucestershire police are investigating allegations of electoral fraud committed by the Conservative Party ahead of the 2015 general election.
The Tory party has been accused of violating key spending regulations over claims that they should have declared the cost of bussing in activists to campaign for constituency candidates on local election expenses, rather than on its national return.
The party blamed “an administrative error” for the failure to register accommodation costs of activists involved in the ‘Battlebus 2015 operation’, which saw supporters travel the country to campaign in 28 key seats. Up to £38,000 was spent on hotel costs during the campaign.
The probe was sparked by a complaint made to Gloucestershire Police, the source of which has not been disclosed.
“We have received an allegation of electoral fraud and an investigation has been launched,” a spokeswoman for Gloucestershire Police told RT.
“We are considering an application for extension on time to investigate. This is in relation to the 2015 general election.”
So far it’s not been made public how many constituencies the complaint relates to or where they lie.
The Conservative Party faces allegations that accommodation bills for campaigners who traveled on specially designated buses across Britain should have fallen under the spending limits applied to individual parliamentary candidates, rather than the party’s overall national campaign budget.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) raised deep concerns over the alleged spending breaches in the House of Commons on Thursday. The party’s lead spokesman, Pete Wishart, who is MP for Perth & North Perthshire, called on ministers to release “an urgent statement.”
“Surely we must now hear what the government’s view on this is and there must be no whiff or suggestion that this government cheated its way to power,” he said.
The number of police investigations (both preliminary & formal) into Tory Election Fraud has now climbed to 8.
— Éoin (@LabourEoin) May 6, 2016
Wishart branded the allegations “absolutely extraordinary,” saying they focus on a total of 28 Tory candidates who failed to officially register the use of a ‘battle bus’ for regional campaigning and up to £38,000 (US$55,00) in accommodation costs for local campaign work.
“If anybody’s found guilty of such a charge it could result in one year imprisonment and an unlimited fine,” he said.
The Conservative Party maintains its failure to register election costs was merely down to an “administrative error.”
— Ed Fraser (@frasereC4) May 6, 2016
Prime Minister David Cameron has defended his party’s conduct, saying it was legitimate to file such expenditure under the national campaign.
The probe into alleged electoral fraud follows a meeting between Britain’s Electoral Commission, prosecutors and police on Wednesday held to ensure enough time is ring-fenced to launch criminal investigations should sufficient evidence be uncovered to warrant them.