6th May 2016
Mr Mike Veale
Chief Constable, Wiltshire Police
Possible Illegal Practice in Chippenham, contrary to the Representation of the People Act 1983.
Dear Mr Veale
I am addressing this personally to you, due to the sensitivity of the matter.
As you are no doubt aware, in May 2016, the current MP for Chippenham, Michelle Donelan beat the former Liberal Democrat MP John Duncan Hames by 10,076 votes in the general election.
During the short campaign, the spending limit stipulated for Ms Donelan under the RPA 1983 was £15,236.61. The declared expenditure from Ms Donelan’s campaign was £14,333.73.
However, the declaration of election expenditure submitted to the returning officer, as required by statute, did not declare expenditure related to the visit of so-called “battle buses” organised by the Conservative Party which ferried hundreds of volunteers to marginal constituencies during the 2015 general election.
This would seem to be an apparent failure to declare transport, food and accommodation costs as required under Schedule 4A, RPA 1983. The Representation of the People Act 1983 makes it an offence of corrupt practice where a candidate or election agent knowingly makes a declaration of expenditure falsely.
The Daily Mirror newspaper has published an article claiming that they have information which indicates that the average daily expenditure which should have been declared for “battle bus” visits, was £2000.
Adding the estimated undeclared expenditure to the actually declared figure of £14,333.73 would indicate that there is an estimated overspend of £1,247.12, in excess of the maximum expenditure allowed by the RPA 1983.
The Act stipulates that where any election expenses are incurred in excess of a maximum amount defined by the RPA 1983 then any candidate or election agent who—
(a) incurred, or authorised the incurring of, the election expenses, and
(b) knew or ought reasonably to have known that the expenses would be incurred in excess of that maximum amount,
shall be guilty of an illegal practice.
I believe that there is a prima facie case that illegal practices may have been committed by either or both Michelle Donelan and/or her election agent, under the terms of RPA 1983, and I should be grateful if you would confirm to me that you will investigate.
I note from newspaper reports that Gloucestershire Police are already investigating parallel issues within the area covered by that force.
[Additional Note: The Conservative Party claim that they declared this expenditure nationally, and therefore there is no irregularity. This however would seem to be contrary to the guidance of the Electoral Commission, who told the Daily Mirror
The Electoral Commission said: “If any relevant costs associated with volunteers campaigning specifically for a particular candidate were incurred, we’d expect those costs would be reported as part of the candidate’s spending return.
“Anyone found guilty of an offence relating to candidate spending or the making of a false declaration in relation to candidate spending could face imprisonment of up to one year, and or an unlimited fine.”
It will be interesting to see whether Wiltshire Police respond in the serious way that they should]