UKIP is facing an enormous legal bill after a court ruled it is responsible for paying some of the £670,000 in legal costs associated with an expensive libel battle involving one of its own politicians.
Jane Collins MEP was successfully sued for libel by three South Yorkshire Labour MPs after she used a speech at UKIP's 2014 party conference to falsely accuse them of being complicit in the cover-up of the Rotherham child abuse scandal.
Collins was last year ordered to pay damages of £54,000 to each of the three Labour MPs in addition to covering £196,000 in costs. She failed to do so, and in response the Labour MPs successfully asked UKIP to pay part of the legal costs.
UKIP's share of the costs could be as high as £200,000, according to a Labour source, an enormous sum for a party which only registered £338,000 in cash donations over the last twelve months. The party's finances have been in a dire state since it helped to win the Brexit referendum, with membership numbers falling and donations drying up.
A senior UKIP source put a brave face on the decision and said the party was only on the hook because it had tried "to be nice" by helping Collins during part of her doomed legal fight.
"I don't think we're as skint as people think we are," the UKIP source said. "I don't think it's nearly as bad as some people are presenting – the numbers they're talking about are balls. This is not about justice, this is about retribution."
The judge ruled that UKIP was liable because it had taken "a deliberate, informed and calculated decision" to ensure that the libel case was not settled before the general election, because the party did not want to undermine its chances of winning its first seats in the House of Commons.
UKIP ultimately failed to win a single constituency, although Collins came a strong second to Labour in the Rotherham constituency.
One legal expert with knowledge of similar legal cases suggested to BuzzFeed News that it could take between a month and two months for a detailed assessment of the costs associated with the case to be finalised. UKIP would then be informed how much money they owe and would likely be given 14 days to pay the bill.
The party's finances are so poor that it cannot afford to pay a salary to Henry Bolton, its current leader. He is facing an emergency general meeting of members on Saturday which could see him removed from the job following press coverage of his affair with former UKIP activist Jo Marney.
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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