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West Midlands Police hands in files as 2015 election fraud investigation nears completion

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The West Midlands Police has become the 13th police force to send in its files on the 2015 election fraud investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The case has implicated two dozen MPs and 19 police forces over the country since a Daily Mirror investigation last March revealed that costs linked to the Conservative “battle bus” were declared as national expenses, although the campaign was in fact canvassing for individual candidates in over two dozen marginal constituencies over the final days of the election.

Earlier this month, the case came to a head when the Electoral Commission, which had been working in hand with the National Police Chiefs Council and local forces, concluded that the costs should have been the declared by the candidates and fined the Conservative Party a record £70,000 for failing to declare over £275,000 of campaign spending.

This included £102,000 for the battle bus, which cost an estimated £2,000 a day, including payments for volunteers. It also accused three candidates of failing to declare their spending records in 2014 by-elections.

Election spending limits, which are designed to tame financial influence on campaigns, are typically around £15,000. However, it is estimated that candidates overspent thousands by failing to register bus hire, hotel bills and food costs.

Failing to register campaign expenses is a criminal offence, and if found guilty, the accused MPs and their agents could face up to a year of jail time and unlimited fines. The investigation, which has been unprecedented in scale in modern British political history, could trigger a string of by-elections which could shake the current government’s thin majority.

This month’s revelations have led to speculations about a possible early general election.

The West Midlands region, which saw a 64.1% turnout, elected 34 Conservative MPs, including Marcus Jones of Nuneaton and Mike Wood of Dudley South, who were both named in the Mirror investigation.

Mr Wood, who is estimated to have overspent by over £1,300, said told the Mirror: “The Conservative Party, like all parties, campaigned strongly across the country to secure a parliamentary majority, and that campaigning activity is rightly part of the national expenditure return rather than local candidates’ returns.”

While a campaign watchdog has claimed it “hindered and caused delay to investigation,” the Party has denied breaking rules and stated that they are cooperating with the police.

Craig Mackinlay, who won South Thanet over UKIP’s Nigel Farage, was questioned for six hours by Kent Police early this month. The investigation also implicated three of the Prime Minister’s top aides after a Channel 4 probe in February alleged that secret emails showed that Political Secretary Stephen Parkinson, Director of Government Relations Chris Brannigan and Chief of Staff Nick Timothy had all been involved in the South Thanet campaign.

Meanwhile, the investigation by the Warwickshire Police is ongoing although it is expected to hand over its files to the CPS within days, along with the other five remaining forces. A police spokesman said that “voluntary interviews have taken place with two individuals” and that the case was “nearing finalisation.”

While 18-24 year-olds remained least likely to vote even after the new Individual Electoral Registration system was implemented for the 2015 register, both the Warwick and Leamington and Kenilworth and Southam constituencies saw high turnouts of 70.5% and 74.8% respectively.

The CPS will have until June to decide whether to charge MPs.

The University of Warwick Conservative Association has been approached for comment. This article will be updated as we receive further information.

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