A Conservative candidate, his aide, and a Tory Party official have been all charged with election offences, the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed today.
Craig Mackinlay, 50, Nathan Gray, 28, and Marion Little, 62, were all charged following an investigation into party spending during the 2015 general election campaign, the CPS said. They are due to appear in Westminster Magistrates court on July 4.
Mackinlay is running in South Thanet for the general election on June 8. He defeated the then-Ukip leader Nigel Farage for the seat in the 2015 election.
A wider police investigation, involving 14 forces, examined whether a number of Conservative party members should have filed expenses connected to national battlebus visits to the local constituency campaign office.
In a statement later posted to Facebook, Mackinlay said: "This is a shocking decision by the CPS given that I've done nothing wrong," and questioned the timing of the decision, adding: "Kent Police confirmed on 18th April that their file had been sent to the CPS to review and make their decision: why leave this until a few days before the election?"
Following the announcement by the CPS, a Tory party spokesperson said they "continue to believe that this remaining allegation is unfounded".
"Our candidate has made clear that there was no intention by him or his campaigners to engage in any inappropriate activity. We believe that they have done nothing wrong, and we are confident that this will be proven as the matter progresses," their statement said.
The statement added that the individuals named remain innocent unless proven otherwise in a court of law, and urged parties, the press, and social media users to be aware of prejudicing the court.
“There is a broad consensus that election law is fragmented, confused and unclear, with two different sets of legislation, and poor guidance from the Electoral Commission. Conservatives are committed to strengthening electoral law to tackle the real and proven cases of corruption that were exposed in Tower Hamlets in 2015,” it went on to say.
Farage, who lost the South Thanet seat to Mackinlay in 2015, said the CPS decision to charge individuals meant the 2017 contest was a "straight fight now between Ukip and the Labour party".
"It means that in that constituency whilst his name will remain on the ballot paper, I think the chances of people voting for him are now very slim," he told a crowd of reporters.
The three could face trial in the crown court, where the maximum sentence handed down could be a year in prison or a fine.
This is the full CPS statement:
"On 18 April we received a file of evidence from Kent Police concerning allegations relating to Conservative Party expenditure during the 2015 General Election campaign. We then asked for additional enquiries to be made in advance of the 11 June statutory time limit by when any charges needed to be authorised.
"Those enquiries have now been completed and we have considered the evidence in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
"We have concluded there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to authorise charges against three people.
"Craig Mackinlay, 50, Nathan Gray, 28, and Marion Little, 62, have each been charged with offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983 and are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on 4 July 2017.
"Criminal proceedings have now commenced and it is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings."
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