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Craig Mackinlay trial: Election agent says he was not told about South Thanet campaign spending

By Paul Francis

A key election aide to MP Craig Mackinlay has denied he was sidelined in the role, despite admitting he was not told about thousands of pounds spent on election campaigning in 2015.

Nathan Gray was the election agent for The Tory politician in South Thanet but Conservative party managers parachuted in Marion Little, who took charge of running the campaign in a high profile battle for the seat with then Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

He is facing a charge of a false expenses declaration and is on trial alongside MP Craig Mackinlay, who faces two similar charges.

Craig Mackinlay denies any wrongdoing
Craig Mackinlay denies any wrongdoing

The third defendant is Marion Little. She faces thee charges of intentionally or assisting an offence under the Serious Crime Act.

At the trial hearing at Southwark Crown Court, Mr Gray faced a further day of questions about his role and what he knew about expenses.

He repeatedly rejected the suggestion by prosecuting counsel that he ended up being bypassed on decisions about expenditure on the campaign despite that being his job.

The court heard how he had spent several days overseeing the opening of postal votes.

Prosecutor Aftab Jafferjee asked why he had been assigned the task when it was unusual for an election agent to be asked to do so.

"Did you know from other election agents that this was very unusual?"

Mr Gray said he had done so because he had been instructed to by Marion Little.

"What did you do - just watch people opening envelopes for two weeks?" - Defence counsel Trevor Burke

"It was not the most thrilling thing to do but it was important to Marion," he said.

The court was later told by Mr Gray he had spent 10 days at the council office in Thanet to ensure they were properly opened and verified.

Defence counsel Trevor Burke asked Gray: "What did you do - just watch people opening envelopes for two weeks?"

Gray, 29, replied: "Yes".

Under prosecution questioning, he was pressed on campaign expenditure that had been authorised, but said he had neither seen or approved.

This included the costs of his own accommodation during the campaign at Ramsgate's Royal Yacht Club.

He said Marion Little had told him the costs would be recorded as national expenditure.

The court heard he had been unaware of money being spent on campaign leaflets.

The trial is taking place at Southwark Crown Court in London
The trial is taking place at Southwark Crown Court in London

Aftab Jafferjee raised the issue of a request for 30,000 campaign leaflets to be printed.

"How is it that this happens and you have not been asked to authorise it?"

Mr Gray replied: "I do not know."

He was also asked about an invoice for £2,000 paid for putting up roadside boards promoting Mr Mackinlay during the campaign.

Mr Gray said he had questioned the amount saying that it had seemed a lot "for two blokes to knock nails into wood."

Asked why the money was ascribed to staffing costs rather than work done by a contractor, he said: "It seemed like the most logical place to put it."

At the end of today's hearing, the court heard from Nathan Gray's father, Derek.

He told the court his son was capable and hard-working and would go out of his way to help others.

All three defendants deny the charges.

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