'Too late' to investigate Newark by-election spending claims

Conservative Robert Jenrick at Newark by-election declaration
Image caption Robert Jenrick won by the Newark by-election for the Conservatives by more than 7,000 votes

Police say it is too late for them to investigate accusations of overspending by the Conservative Party during the 2014 Newark by-election.

Channel 4 News claimed that some bills were not included in local spending returns during the poll, which was won by Conservative MP Robert Jenrick.

However, Nottinghamshire Police said the alleged offence would need to have been prosecuted within 12 months.

The Conservatives say all spending was recorded in accordance with the law.

Image caption Nottinghamshire chief constable Chris Eyre said he recognised "the seriousness of the claims and the impact this could have on public confidence"

Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police Chris Eyre has written an open letter to Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping explaining his position.

He wrote: "The purpose of this limit [12 months] is to ensure finality in elections and as such no proceedings could be brought in this case.

"I hope this reassures you of the current legislative framework and the powers available to the police in a case such as this."

Allegations 'completely unfounded'

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Media captionMichael Crick explains the allegations on the BBC's Daily Politics

Channel 4 News said it had obtained hotel bills that suggested the Conservatives broke electoral rules in the Newark, Clacton and Rochester & Strood by-elections, the first of which the Conservatives won and the other two it lost to UKIP.

Campaign spending in by-elections is limited to £100,000 for each party.

But Channel 4 News political correspondent Michael Crick said he had uncovered £56,866.75 of undeclared hotel bills in Rochester, which would have taken the party £53,659.83 over the £100,000 limit.

The programme found bills totalling £26,786.14 in Clacton, which would have taken the party £10,835.36 over the limit, and receipts totalling £10,459.30 in Newark, which would mean an overspend of £6,650.28.

Robert Jenrick, who won the Newark contest, told BBC News he was "very confident" his election expenses were compiled "in complete compliance with the law".

"The allegations that were on Channel 4 News are, as far as I can see, completely unfounded," he added.

Mr Tipping, who was previously Labour MP for Sherwood, had written to Mr Eyre to "remind" him of the "seriousness and importance of considering the matters closely".

In his response, Mr Eyre said he had discussed the matter with the Crown Prosecution Service and other police forces where similar allegations have been made.

'Attempts to circumvent' legislation

The primary offence for police to consider would have been "making a false declaration as to election expenses", contrary to the Representation of the People Act 1983.

However, this offence would need to have been prosecuted within the 12-month statutory limit.

Mr Eyre noted there have been recent cases that "demonstrate attempts to circumvent" legislation by way of common law, such as conspiracy to defraud, but these "have been held to be an abuse of process and as such have been discharged".

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