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Craig Mackinlay trial: Court hears campaign specialist Marion Little brought to Kent as part of 'national expenditure'

By Paul Francis

A court has been told an election campaign specialist sent to South Thanet during the 2015 general election was there to lead the Conservative's national campaign against Ukip.

Marion Little is one of three defendants facing charges of falsifying election spending returns in the constituency at the election.

The others are Craig Mackinlay MP and Nathan Gray, his election agent at that time.

Craig Mackinlay denies any wrongdoing
Craig Mackinlay denies any wrongdoing

Mrs Little's defence counsel James Sturnam said in his closing statement there were no emails she had exchanged with national party chiefs that suggested she was doing anything other than working on the national campaign against Ukip.

He referred to evidence from Lord Stephen Gilbert, who worked at Conservative Central Office at the time, who said in evidence the national campaign fighting Ukip had to be based in South Thanet because that was where Nigel Farage, then leader of Ukip, was trying to become MP.

Marion Little was "not doing anything other than national work" and was doing so "in the genuine belief that it was national expenditure."

"This was not the South Thanet job...it was completely consistent with doing her duty [leading the national campaign]," he said.

If the job of tackling Ukip had been based in Thurrock, she would have gone there, he said.

Nathan Gray. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Archive
Nathan Gray. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Archive

He told the jury there was a body of evidence which pulled together meant the only reason that some expenditure was not included in the election returns of Craig Mackinlay was because they were part of national costs.

He acknowledged there were occasions where she had offered to help the local campaign.

"She was helpful... she was helpful to fault", he said.

He also reminded the jury that in his evidence, Nathan Gray had told the court that he had not given up his job as election agent when Mrs little arrived in March 2015 to work from the Conservative association's Broadstairs office.

Mrs Little is one of three defendants facing charges related to election expenses and claims that the party had wrongly reported them in a way that they breached legal limits.

The trial is taking place in London's Southwark Crown Court
The trial is taking place in London's Southwark Crown Court

In his summing up, James Sturman QC he said Mrs Little was an honest person who had not included expenses on the returns submitted as campaign expenditure for Mr Mackinlay - such as hotel accommodation for party workers - who were drafted in because they were related to national expenditure.

Mackinlay denies two counts of "knowingly making a false declaration on an election expenses return", contrary to the Representation of the People Act.

Gray denies one count of knowingly using a false instrument "namely in respect of the election expenses return for the long campaign period".

He also denies "knowingly making a false declaration on an election expenses return".

The trial continues.

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