As expected when Channel 4 News broke the story earlier this year, no action will be taken against Croydon’s two Conservative MPs after they failed to fulfil the legal requirements at the General Election in May by filing accurate accounts of their expenses.
Richard Ottaway, the MP for Croydon South, of course has considerable form in respect of questionable expenses, while Gavin Barwell, newly elected for Croydon Central, had previously had a job at Tory Central Office, divvying out tax-dodger Lord Ashcroft’s cash to key target seats.
But neither Tory MP will carry any responsibility for their failure to act within the law, after their election agent was sent up to the High Court in London today.
Ian Parker ran the campaigns for both Barwell and Ottaway, and put in declarations of the candidates’ election expenses after the vote.
Today, Parker told the High Court he was “horrified” to discover that errors had been made.
Parker admitted that the declarations for Barwell and Ottaway left off a “notional charge” for the use of office space during the campaigns and also under-estimated amounts spent on the printing of election leaflets.
Under the terms of the Representation of the People Act 1983, inaccurate declarations of election expenses are illegal and can attract a range of severe punishments.
But instead of any punishment, Mr Justice Silber accepted that neither Barwell nor Ottaway were aware of the errors (how very irresponsible of them), and Parker had only discovered them to his horror in mid-July – coincidentally, around about the time that C4News was putting together its report.
Mr Justice Silber said the sums left off the declarations would not have pushed either candidate over the election expenses limit and accepted that the mistakes were “inadvertent” and there had been “no want of good faith” on his part.
Good to see a High Court judge opting to go down the route predicted by Tricky Dicky Ottaway back in July, when he dismissed the latest expenses fiddle allegations against him as “just a cock-up”. So that’s all right then.