Tory official not aware of forged signature on election expenses, court told

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A Tory official has said she “wasn’t aware at all” that a colleague’s signature was forged on an election expenses form.

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, 52, allegedly overspent on his 2015 general election campaign to beat then Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

Mackinlay, along with his election agent Nathan Gray, 29, and party activist Marion Little, 63, are alleged to have been complicit in submitting false expenditure declarations.

A jury at Southwark Crown Court was previously told Gray’s signature was forged on a declaration document for expenses incurred in the long campaign.

Nathan Gray
Nathan Gray was Craig Mackinlay’s election agent (Victoria Jones/PA)

She has denied any knowledge of the alleged forgery.

Trevor Burke QC, defending Gray, said: “It’s a forgery, that is not Nathan Gray’s signature.

“Someone has attempted to copy Nathan Gray’s signature, and it’s not a bad attempt some might think.

“But an expert tells us it’s somebody other than him attempting to copy him.”

Mrs Carslake replied: “It’s the first I’ve heard of such a thing.”

Mr Burke continued: “An explanation for this may be that the original (document) Nathan Gray gave you had been somehow misplaced or lost and as the final documents were being compiled for submission there was a realisation that it was a declaration short.

“And there was an attempt to forge Nathan Gray’s signature on the long campaign declaration.”

Mrs Carslake said: “If that’s what happened I wasn’t aware of it at all.”

The court heard the Conservative Party put extra resources into the campaign to win the Kent seat because, prior to the EU referendum, Ukip’s support was on the rise.

Mackinlay won with a majority of around 2,800 in an electorate of 70,000.

Craig Mackinlay, right, defeated Nigel Farage, second left, to take the seat in the 2015 general election (Gareth Fuller/PA)

This includes printing leaflets, putting up posters and staff costs, such as the employment of Gray as an election agent.

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 Mackinlay and Gray came in below the limit, at £32,661 and £14,833 respectively.

The prosecution claims neither of those figures were accurate by “some considerable margin” and all three defendants were “complicit in advancing those false declarations”.

Mackinlay, from Ramsgate, Kent, denies two charges of making a false election expenses declaration under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

Gray, of 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.

Little, of Ware, Hertfordshire, denies three counts of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007.

They are all on unconditional bail.

The trial, which is expected to last until December, continues.

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