Electoral Commission requests extension to Tory election expenses probe
The elections watchdog has asked police and prosecutors to seek more time to decide whether or not to bring criminal prosecutions related to Conservative election expenses.
The rules dictate that prosecutions must take place with one year of polling day unless an extension to the time limit is secured.
After allegations by Channel 4 News, the Electoral Commission is investigating spending returns for a number of seats in the general election and three by-elections in 2014.
The Commission’s inquiries will not themselves lead to criminal charges, but the watchdog called on the police to request an extension pending the outcomes.
Bob Posner, the Commission’s director of party and election finance and legal counsel, said: “The police and the CPS both have the power to apply to the Courts to extend the time limit on bringing criminal prosecutions for electoral offences to allow for full investigations to take place.
“We have requested that they consider doing this.”
The statement stressed that the request does not mean the Commission has a view on whether or not criminal charges should be brought.
Last week the Conservatives admitted spending tens of thousands of pounds without it being declared properly.
An investigation by Channel 4 News revealed that the party spent more than £38,000 on accommodation for activists touring the country on its BattleBus 2015 campaign.
The BattleBus campaign visited 29 seats, with the Conservatives going on to win 22 of them.
According to Channel 4 News, if the money spent in them had been declared by the local candidate, it would have exceeded the legal limit in 24 constituencies.
A Conservative spokesman blamed an "administrative error" for the failure to declare the money nationally, but insisted it should not have been part of the local candidates' spending returns.
"CCHQ campaigned across the country for the return of a Conservative government," said the spokesman. "Such campaigning would be part of the national return, not local return, as the Electoral Commission has said. As is apparent from our national return, the party declared expenditure related to our CCHQ-organised Battlebus.
"However, due to administrative error it omitted to declare the accommodation costs of those using the vehicles. This is something we have already brought to the attention of the Electoral Commission in order to amend the return.
"The Party always took the view that our national Battlebus, a highly-publicised campaign activity, was part of the national return - and we would have no reason not to declare it as such, given that the party was some millions below the national spending threshold. Other political parties ran similar vehicles which visited different parliamentary constituencies as part of their national campaigning."