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Crown Prosecution Service defends decision to charge South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay over general election expenses

By Paul Francis

Prosecutors have defended the decision to charge South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay over general election expenses after he described it as a “political show trial.”

Mr Mackinlay made an outspoken attack on the decision to bring charges against him after he was cleared of two counts of falsifying election returns following a 10-week trial.

He said the Crown Prosecution Service and Kent Police, along with the Electoral Commission, had questions to answer and that he had endured “three years of pure hell” before his acquittal.

Craig Mackinlay speaks outside Southwark Crown Court

He was scathing about the CPS, saying millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money had been wasted and said the Electoral Commission - the election watchdog - was not fit for purpose.

In a brief statement, former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who was defeated in the election battle for South Thanet, said: “This verdict shows that there are no election rules for the big parties in British politics, they can wilfully overspend without any consequences.”

Although Mr Mackinlay was cleared, the election campaign specialist Marion Little was convicted on two counts relating to election expenses during the general election campaign of 2015.

In a statement, the CPS said: “The role of the CPS is not to determine guilt or innocence but to make an objective decision as to whether there is a realistic prospect of a conviction based on the available evidence.

"While the trial judge found there was a case for the defendants to answer in respect of the false declaration offences, we fully respect the decision of the jury in this case.”

"In bringing the case to court, the CPS considered a section of the Representation of the People Act 1983 which was a relatively untested area of law. Our approach was robustly challenged by the defence but ultimately the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the CPS."

"This ruling meant the case was able to proceed to trial and the judgment will act as important case law for any future prosecutions."

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission said the case would serve as a warning to political parties not to circumvent the law.

In a statement, the commission said: “It is vital that offences under electoral law are properly investigated, including by the police when appropriate.

Craig Mackinlay won the South Thanet seat over Nigel Farage in 2015 (6443550)
Craig Mackinlay won the South Thanet seat over Nigel Farage in 2015 (6443550)

"This outcome should serve as a deterrent to anyone who would seek to circumvent the proper reporting of campaign spending.

"We’re pleased that Kent Police and the Crown Prosecution Service have taken this case seriously and that an appropriate judgement has been handed down."

"Candidates and agents have important duties and need clear rules in order to discharge them."

The South Thanet MP said: "I now have extreme concerns as to the clarity of election law, and the glaring grey area between national spending rules and local spending rules. Candidates and agents should never have to face the threat of criminal prosecution, with life-changing consequences, in the face of abstract law."

Detective Superintendent Morgan Cronin from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: "Kent Police investigates all allegations of crime to ascertain the facts.

"Following a number of complaints after the 2015 election officers fully investigated the allegations and papers were submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service for charges to be authorised."

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