Tory MP Craig Mackinlay on trial over election expenses
A Conservative MP overspent on his 2015 general election campaign to defeat the then UKIP leader Nigel Farage, a court has heard.
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay and his election agent Nathan Gray are accused of submitting false expenditure declarations.
Southwark Crown Court heard Mr Farage indicated he would step down as UKIP leader if he failed to win the seat.
Party activist Marion Little is accused of encouraging or assisting an offence.
Mr Gray had described the campaign as "truly magnificent", the jury was told.
Opening the prosecution's case, Aftab Jafferjee said: "Nigel Farage indicated he would step down as UKIP leader if he failed to win South Thanet, so it was clear this was not going to be any ordinary election campaign."
He said the election was a "two-horse race" and the Conservative Party had put in extra resources to win the Kent seat because, prior to the EU referendum, UKIP's support had been on the rise.
Mr Jafferjee said that court expenditure on election campaigns was "tightly regulated" over two stages - short and long campaigns - and included costs such as printing leaflets, putting up posters, and staff costs.
In South Thanet, the limit for the expenditure in the long campaign was just over £37,000; while for the short campaign it was just over £15,000.
Declarations made by Mr Mackinlay and Mr Gray came in below the limit, at £32,661 and £14,833 respectively, the court was told.
Mr Jafferjee said: "It is the prosecution case that neither of these declarations as to expenditure - the long return figure of just over £32,000 and the short return figure of just under £15,000 - were true, and by some considerable margin.
"Each of these three defendants were complicit in advancing those false declarations."
Nathan Gray's signature on the long return had been "forged", Mr Jafferjee said.
Ms Little told police she was not working for Mr Mackinlay, but carrying out national campaign work, the court heard.
The trial is expected to last until December.
Mr Mackinlay, 52, from Ramsgate, Kent, denies two charges of making a false election expenses declaration under the Representation of the People Act 1983.
Mr Gray, 29, from Hawkhurst, Kent, denies one charge of making a false election expenses declaration and a further charge of using a false instrument under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981.
Party activist Ms Little, 63, from Ware, Hertfordshire, denies three counts of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007.