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Jury retires in election expenses trial of Craig Mackinlay MP

By Paul Francis

The jury in the election expenses trial of MP Craig Mackinlay has retired to consider its verdict.

The trial at Southwark Crown Court of the South Thanet MP and two others, relating to expenses submitted for the 2015 General Election campaign, has been going on for more than seven weeks.

Mr Mackinlay has denied charges that he falsified election expenses returns - in a campaign where he was visited by several Tory big hitters including Boris Johnson and William Hague - after beating former Ukip leader Nigel Farage to the seat. He won the seat with a majority of 2,800.

Craig Mackinlay MP is accused of "knowingly making a false declaration on an election expenses return"
Craig Mackinlay MP is accused of "knowingly making a false declaration on an election expenses return"

He is one of three defendants in the trial. Nathan Gray, his election agent at the time, and Marion Little, an experienced election campaign coordinator, also deny similar charges.

The case followed claims that the party had wrongly reported its expenditure during the campaign.

The claims centred partly on the costs of hotel accommodation used by the party and whethér those costs were properly reported under electoral law.

The trial also heard claims about the costs of battle buses used to bring party activists down to the constituency .

The trial heard allegations the Conservative party would have exceeded permitted spending limits if the costs for hotel accommodation at the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate been included in the local spending returns.

There were also claims that spending on campaign battle buses had not been properly recorded as local expenditure.

Boris Johnson visits Thanet with Craig Mackinlay during the 2015 General Election campaign
Boris Johnson visits Thanet with Craig Mackinlay during the 2015 General Election campaign

According to spending returns, candidate Craig Mackinlay spent £14,838 on his campaign in South Thanet. But it is claimed the real figure would have been thousands more if hotel expenses had been properly attributed.

During the trial defence lawyers for Mr MacKinlay and Marion Little said a distinction had been drawn between the party’s expenditure on its national anti-UKIP campaign and expenditure on the local campaign.

This distinction meant that the legal limits were not exceeded.

According to the official returns, the Conservative party spent £14,837 on what is known as the short campaign in South Thanet against a limit of £15,016.

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".

Little denies three counts of "intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence" in relation to the expenses returns.

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

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