Top Tory urges po­lice to open probe into Brexit data mis­use

Damian Collins says Scot­land Yard must ex­plain its in­ac­tion

The Observer - - News - Ca­role Cad­wal­ladr & Mark Townsend

A se­nior Con­ser­va­tive MP has de­manded that Scot­land Yard ur­gently ex­plain why it has not opened a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into three pro-Brexit cam­paigns that the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion found had bro­ken the law.

Damian Collins, chair of the Com­mons com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­gat­ing the il­le­gal use of data dur­ing the EU ref­er­en­dum, told the Ob­server he was con­cerned t hat the Met­ro­pol­i­tan po­lice had as yet failed to launch a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­ten­tial crimes com­mit­ted by pro-Leave groups be­fore the 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

His in­ter­ven­tion comes five months af­ter the of­fi­cial election reg­u­la­tor ruled that crim­i­nal of­fences had been com­mit­ted and the force was first handed a dossier con­tain­ing ev­i­dence of the po­ten­tial crimes.

On Thurs­day, the web­site Open Democ­racy re­ported that the Met had stalled the launch of a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the pro-Brexit cam­paigns cit­ing “po­lit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties”.

An email seen by the Ob­server from Open Democ­racy shows a Met press of­fi­cer us­ing the phrase to ex­plain why a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion had not been opened, with the ex­pla­na­tion that this would “re­late to ANY al­le­ga­tion or re­fer­ral re­lat­ing to an election”.

Hours af­ter the re­port ap­peared, the Met is­sued a state­ment say­ing it had re­ceived more than 900 doc­u­ments from the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion which are “be­ing as­sessed in or­der to make an in­formed de­ci­sion as to whether a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion is re­quired”.

Collins, the chair of the Com­mons dig­i­tal, cul­ture, me­dia and sport com­mit­tee, said the re­port was trou­bling. “If the law was bro­ken they [the po­lice] have a duty to in­ves­ti­gate. It makes no sense at all. We need a proper of­fi­cial re­sponse,” he said.

In May and July this year, the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion re­ported that false dec­la­ra­tions, mul­ti­ple breaches of elec­toral law and covert cam­paign over­spend­ing had taken place by proLeave groups dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum. Collins added: “What is our law worth if the po­lice won’t act?”

He added that Scot­land Yard’s lack of ap­par­ent ac­tion ap­peared in stark con­trast to its ap­proach when it raided the par­lia­men­tary of­fices of for­mer first sec­re­tary of state Damian Green in 2008 dur­ing a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a se­ries of leaks from in­side the Home Of­fice.

The Elec­toral Com­mis­sion has made two re­fer­rals to the Met re­gard­ing po­ten­tial crim­i­nal of­fences – the first re­ceived on 11 May con­cerns Leave.EU. The or­gan­i­sa­tion was fined £70,000 for over­spend­ing by at least £77,380 dur­ing the cam­paign with its chief ex­ec­u­tive, Liz Bil­ney, re­ferred to the po­lice. Leave.EU co-founder Aaron Banks ac­cused the com­mis­sion of pur­su­ing a “ridicu­lous witch hunt”.

The sec­ond re­fer­ral was re­ceived on 17 July and con­cerned Vote Leave, the of­fi­cial cam­paign fronted by Boris John­son and Michael Gove, that was fined £61,000 in July af­ter it was found to have fun­nelled more than £500,000 in do­na­tions to an­other group, BeLeave.

Vote Leave has stated that it had “pro­vided ev­i­dence prov­ing there was no wrong­do­ing” and was “con­fi­dent these find­ings will be over­turned”.

Collins also re­vealed he was baf­fled about the lack of ap­par­ent progress by the Na­tional Crime Agency, which has re­ceived ev­i­dence from the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion into the main pro-Brexit cam­paigns.

“We don’t know. We’re no clearer on that. We now have dif­fer­ent govern­ment agen­cies who know about this. We know there is ev­i­dence of at­tempts to in­ter­fere in Bri­tish pol­i­tics. Why is there not a broader in­ves­ti­ga­tion?”, said Collins.

The MP said it was “ab­surd” that the UK had not re­acted to claims of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the ref­er­en­dum by repli­cat­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of US spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, who is head­ing an in­quiry into al­leged Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial election. “In Amer­ica, where there are deep po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions in Congress, they still agree on the im­por­tance of this and the need for a spe­cial prose­cu­tor. We need the same,” said Collins.

He also warned Mark Zucker­berg that the Face­book chief’s re­fusal to as­sist the par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into the mis­use of data should re­sult in the UK’s se­cu­rity ser­vices be­ing al­lowed to in­ves­ti­gate Face­book.

Pho­to­graph by Alex Bra­mall/ PA Wire

Princess Eu­ge­nie and her new hus­band Jack Brooks­bank en­joy an in­ti­mate mo­ment in the Scot­tish state coach af­ter their wed­ding in Wind­sor on Fri­day.

Boris John­son’s Vote Leave was fined for fun­nelling over £500,000 to BeLeave.

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