No prison bars likely for Barwell, according to legal expert

Even if Gavin Barwell is found guilty of failing to account properly for his expenses at last year’s General Election, the MP for Croydon Central faces no greater sanction than a £20,000 fine for each offence, and there’s little possibility that any of the parliamentary seats under police investigation will be forced into a re-run.

MP Gavin Barwell: has been caught out telling porkies again

Gavin Barwell: if found guilty of having indulged in pork barrel politics, Croydon Central’s MP may only face a fine

That’s the view of David Allen Green, the law and policy commentator at the Financial Times, who has trawled through the relevant parts of election law ahead of publishing a detailed review for the newspaper next week.

There are around 30 police investigations underway across the country, including in Croydon, as well as in nearby Sutton and Cheam where Conservative Paul Scully is now the MP.

Many of the investigations began following reports by the Daily Mirror and Channel 4 News into Tory spending on the 2015 election, in which the Conservatives are alleged to have spent beyond local limits on their election “BattleBus” and hotel accommodation for activists in some key marginal seats.

In Croydon Central, Barwell is being investigated over allegations that he under-declared his spending on election leaflets and for the use of a constituency office. It is the second time in two General Elections that Barwell’s election spending has been investigated.

But according to Allen Green, a senior counsel and head of the litigation and media practices at Preiskel & Co, “It looks to me that the Tory party could well be whacked with a huge fine, but convictions of MPs and forced by-elections [seem] highly unlikely.”

Allen Green was expressing his interpretation of the law on social media this afternoon, apparently in response to some more fevered speculation that any MPs found guilty of election fraud could face prison sentences and by-elections forced in their parliamentary seats – which could potentially eliminate “Dodgy Dave” Cameron’s Government’s majority.

“There is a remote theoretical chance that there could be 13-plus disqualifications and by-elections. I suspect there will be very few, if any,” Allen Green wrote.

“One may say the true issue is not that these allegations will lead to by-elections, but that the way the law is structured, they can’t.”

In several seats around the country, spending on what appears to have been the specific constituency election has been accounted for as a national party expense by the Conservatives, seeing their candidates spend far more than is allowed by election law.

“The national Tory party do face a serious legal problem [regarding] expenses, but the knock-on effect in constituencies [and] by-elections [is a] different issue,” Allen Green said.

“In essence, it is a see-saw. The worse the allegations against national Tory party (they are bad), [the] less likely local MP disqualifications.”

According to the electoral commission, the figure of £20,000 is the maximum fine (as detailed in paragraph 8.9 here). The highest fine levied to date is £8,000, after findings against the Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol Party this year.

“There can, of course, be multiple fines for multiple breaches, up to the limit,” Allen Green notes.

Which could be bad news for Barwell, although it would still mean he is unlikely to be fined more than half of the £90,000 election war chest that he boasted of raising when writing his recently published memoir.

In short, Allen Green suggests that the election law on expenses offences is a fairly feeble piece of legislation. “One would suspect that elections law was written by politicians so not to have much real effect at all,” Allen Green wrote.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in 2015 General Election, Crime, Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to No prison bars likely for Barwell, according to legal expert

  1. farmersboy says:

    That’s a shame I was looking forward to his emails boasting how he would make the exercise yard zone 3 without asking Big Dave first

    • derekthrower says:

      Well all of a sudden they seem very worried about the conditions in prisons and the mental health therapies available to prisoners. Sheer coincidence (?).

  2. davidjl2014 says:

    Nothing new here. Both the Conservative and Labour parties have been ignoring each other’s overspend on defined election expenses for years. Yet this sort of abuse continues to this day, but at a far higher level. This government spent £9.2 million of taxpayers money producing a pamphlet on why we should remain in the EU. When I received my copy I put it back in the post marked “return to sender” to 10, Downing Street. Surely that sort of money could, and should have been, spent more wisely.

    • farmersboy says:

      Whatever else happens let’s turn it into a question about the EU referendum. Tory election fraud ooh wouldn’t happen if we weren’t in the EU. Chilcot report? nothing to see here move along, European bureaucrats made Tony do it. The biggest hide bad news day ever

      • davidjl2014 says:

        Strange comment. We ALL know that Gavin Barwell being accused of overspending in last year’s general election is a far more important topic than the EU referendum (when is again?).

        • In fact, the accusations against Barwell and the other Tory MPs alleged to have committed election fraud are more important than the referendum.

          The offer of a EU referendum was Dodgy Dave’s wheeze to outflank UKIP at the General Election: don’t state that you’re for “in” before May 2015 – as Barwell did – and avoid alienating at least some UKIP/Tory floating voters.

          The referendum is only taking place because the Tories have a parliamentary majority secured with the help of MPs in some seats, including Croydon Central, secured with some questionable accounting.

          It’s apparent the Tories will do anything to grasp at power.

    • derekthrower says:

      Well even Ostriches have to stick there head out of their holes every now and then. When has the media ever run this far with this story before, because the parties have never been so incompetent as to have been found out not even declaring their expenses before as the Conservatives have been in this case The question of why they did not declare such significant spending and the legal remedies required do not appear to have merited consideration in this legal opinion. Does it even fall under the provisions of criminal law? This does seem to be why the police are seeking extensions in time provisions to investigate the matter and perhaps there are further allegations that have not yet been aired in public.

      • farmersboy says:

        But the media aren’t running with the story. If it wasn’t for social media it would still be secret

        • derekthrower says:

          Have you ever watched Channel 4 news? It has a nightly dose and has even now made it onto Newsnight. Significant journalistic resources are being devoted to it.

        • The Daily Mirror and Channel 4 News, who jointly broke the stories, do count as “meeja”.

          Thing is, those outlets which have been slower to reflect this story can’t just report “He’s an election fraudster, because they say so”. Other news outlets do require some evidence to support their reports. But the evidence is out there, especially for local newspapers to check through the MPs’ expenses declarations. So it is something they could have been checking some time ago, as we did.

          Michael White explains some of the niceties here:

          That said, the stunned silence of the BBC, over six months, which has seven hours of political programming to fill on TV most weeks, presented by Andrew Neil and produced by Robbie Gibb, does seem very odd.

  3. davidjl2014 says:

    I assume that the £8,000 fine imposed upon the Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol Party had nothing to do with election expenses but an attempt by the HMRC to claw back some much needed Duty on the weed that is gratuitously imposed on alcohol. The government can’t tax cannabis because it’s illegal, the police don’t enforce the law, yet a bunch of protagonists get their fingers burnt trying to enter the world of politics. You couldn’t make it up could you.

  4. derekthrower says:

    This is one legal opinion. The example of former labour minister Phil Woolas should remind people that election law is not the innocuous and ineffective piece of legislation that it is always portrayed as. This of course was with regard to another section of the appropriate act, but then again do we have all the information regarding this matter to hand yet?

  5. mraemiller says:

    Presumably if he was convicted of a crime the leader of the Tory party would at least withdraw the whip?

    Although I don’t think it’s illegal to stand criminal candidates it might be the kiss of death at the ballot box.

    Then again what’s the worst that can happen?

  6. Just to clarify, and to emphasise: I have not mentioned this particular case and I have made no comment about it, on Twitter or elsewhere. I have not looked into the facts of these particular allegations.

    My points on Twitter and elsewhere were general ones, not about any particular constituency.

Leave a Reply