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Police Crime Commissioner Told To "Stand Aside" Over Election Expenses Investigation

Devon and Cornwall police have had to transfer the investigation to another force to avoid a conflict of interest.

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A Tory police crime commissioner (PCC) is facing calls to step down because she is being investigated for election fraud.

Alison Hernandez was elected PCC in Devon and Cornwall in last week's elections, but has also been accused of failing to properly declare election expenses in 2015.

Devon and Cornwall police have confirmed the investigation will be transferred to another force to avoid a conflict of interest.

Hernandez was the election agent for Kevin Foster MP, who won the seat of Torbay last year. However, according to Channel 4 News, his spending return, filled out by her, failed to declare up to £2,460 spent bringing Tory activists to Torbay to campaign for him.

Devon and Cornwall police confirmed it was investigating the allegations, pending legal advice, last week.

Earlier today, Hernandez told BuzzFeed News: "As the election agent, I made a return of election expenses as required by law. The party's national bus tour was authorised and paid for by CCHQ [Conservative campaign headquarters], was intended to promote the party's success in the general election, and did not form part of the local election expenses.

"I have not been approached by the police or any authorities on this matter. I stand ready to assist with any inquiries that the police or other agency wish to make.

"At my request the chief executive has put in place arrangements that I will have no contact with the chief constable or any officer from Devon and Cornwall police in relation to this matter."

Eight police forces have launched investigations into claims the Conservatives failed to record accommodation costs for bussing activists to constituencies as part of candidates' spending, recording them instead as national spending.

The Conservative party has said this was due to an "administrative error", and that the party had brought it to the attention of the Election Commission.

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The Labour MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw, has said it was "inappropriate" for Hernandez to take the role.

Wholly inappropriate for Alison Fernandez to take Police Commissioner oath while Tory expenses investigation ongoing

Tudor Evans, Labour leader of Plymouth City Council, told the BBC she should "absolutely" stand aside: "She's under investigation, her Conservative colleagues are being investigated and she's a politically controlled PCC."

In a statement posted to Facebook, former Lib Dem MP for Torbay Adrian Saunders wrote: "As Mrs Hernandez is one of the people who signed off the expenses the Devon & Cornwall police are going to investigate my first reaction was should another force be called in to carry out the enquiries given Mrs Hernandez's obvious conflict of interest."

He added: "All of the agents and candidates are innocent until proven guilty but only one is in a position of influence over the investigations and it is this conflict of interest that is in question here."

The previous PCC for the area, Tony Hogg, said prior to the election that he was concerned by the issue.

"If there is an allegation or a number of allegations on one or more candidates for this election, I'm hoping that issue can be cleared in time before people go to the vote," he said.

"Because, quite apart from the confusion that would occur if someone was voted into this role and then misbehaviour is unearthed, the waste of opportunity time, the waste of money – do we rerun an election?"

As well as Kevin Foster, three other MPs are being investigated: the MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, Oliver Colville; the MP for North Cornwall, Scott Mann; and the MP for Camborne, Redruth, and Hayle, George Eustice.

Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

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