Police probe into town MP election expenses
Police have confirmed they are looking into claims of anomalies in the election expenses of Fleetwood and Lancaster MP Cat Smith.
The MP strongly denies allegations by a political blog site that she spent thousands of pounds more than she declared in the fight to get elected.
Ms Smith, shadow minister for women and equalities and a rising star in the Labour Party, is facing the accusations in relation to last year’s election campaign.
The MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood has issued a statement denying the claims and says she is confident her name will be cleared.
Lancashire Police say they are responding to complaints made about Ms Smith, who is believed to be the first Labour MP to be quizzed over last year’s election expenses.
In a brief statement, a Lancashire Police spokesperson said: “We have received a complaint and are in the early stages of looking into the matter to establish whether there is anything to substantiate the allegations being made. At this stage we’re not in a position to offer any further comment.”
The original claims were made last week on the Guido Fawkes blogsite, set up and overseen by blogger Paul Staines, which has predominantly targeted politicians over expenses.
Ms Smith said her expenditure was £2,000 below the maximum allowed.
The Guido Fawkes article suggested her claims were low – insinuating she actually spent more – and accused the MP of acting fraudulently.
But Ms Smith hit back and said: “I utterly deny the allegation that my election expenses broke the law.
“If the police do decide to investigate I will fully cooperate with their inquiries, including giving them full access to all my financial records from the general election campaign.
“I am confident that no case will be found and I will be fully exonerated.”
And the MP said of the claims in the blog: “My election expenses were filed accurately and within the law by my election agent Dr James Groves, they were on display for public scrutiny after the election in Lancaster Town Hall and I stand by them.
“If the right-wing blogger Guido wants to seriously accuse me of any wrong doing he should do so in the appropriate way rather than making innuendos and false accusations on his off-shore blog where he knows his victims cannot sue for libel.”
Campaign expenditure rules are covered by the Representation of the People’s Act 1983 and are aimed at presenting a level playing field for candidates.
The blog said of her election office premises, on Lord Street, Fleetwood: “The office is listed online with an annual rent price of £8,950. Yet throughout the campaign, more than four months, Smith declared just £1,544.60 in office rent.”
And on staff, it was claimed: “In the long campaign Smith declared £692.25 in staffing costs, in the short campaign she declared another £576.88. Yet the job advert for the Fleetwood organiser stated that the salary was £22,547 per annum.
“Remarkably, Smith claims her organiser Ben Singleton spent just 12.5 per cent of his time on her general election campaign, and spent the vast majority helping the national campaign and council candidates.
“But during the election Singleton tweeted exclusively about Smith.”
In response to the claims, Ms Smith’s election agent Mr Groves stated: “The property was rented by the party and supplied to Cat Smith’s campaign and the Wyre Borough Council candidates’ campaigns.
“The rent was £2,013.50 per quarter, equating to £2,228.64 over 101 days, and 50 per cent of this total was charged to Cat Smith’s campaign (the rest was charged to local candidates in Wyre).