LONDON (Reuters) - A member of parliament from Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority ruling Conservative Party was cleared on Wednesday of declaring false expenses during Britain’s 2015 national election in which he narrowly beat leading Brexit figure Nigel Farage.
Craig Mackinlay, 52, defeated Farage, the former head of the UKIP party, to win the parliamentary seat of South Thanet in southeastern England by 2,812 votes but was later accused of falsifying his expense returns.
Prosecutors said thousands of pounds of overspending was omitted from the returns which were “woefully inaccurate, and deliberately so”.
Mackinlay was cleared of the charges by a jury at Southwark Crown Court but Conservative Party official Marion Little, 63, who the judge said described herself as a friend to May and other senior political figures, was found guilty of two counts of encouraging or assisting an offence.
“No one can know whether her misconduct had any effect on the outcome of that election, but she plainly intended that it would,” Judge Andrew Edis said.
She was sentenced to nine months in prison but this was suspended because her husband is seriously ill.
In May 2017, prosecutors ruled out bringing more widespread criminal charges over allegations of expenses fraud by the Conservatives during the 2015 campaign which saw the party win power.
Mackinlay retained his seat in another national election in June 2017 with an increased majority of more than 6,000 votes as support for UKIP collapsed with Farage - who played a key role in securing Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016 - no longer the party’s candidate.
Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison