As the election looms ever closer another political row has broken out – with the Middlesbrough Labour Party now reported to both the police and the Electoral Commission.
Three Labour councillor candidates – including the leader of Middlesbrough Labour Party Charlie Rooney – have been reported for the alleged publishing of a false statement about Independent mayoral candidate Andy Preston.
Mr Preston has been reported to the police and Electoral Commission regarding putting his parents’ Middlesbrough address on his nomination form.
The latest complaints regard Labour councillor candidates for Longlands and Beechwood Charlie Rooney, Jacinta Skipp and Theresa Higgins and a political leaflet that has been circulated across the Saltersgill area of Middlesbrough.
In it, they state that Mr Preston owns a piece of land on Saltersgill Avenue – the former Gospel Hall site – that they describe as “disgraceful”, suggesting that this shows he treats communities with “utter disdain” and claim that Labour candidate Dave Budd is the best man to be the town’s mayor.
Mr Preston said he has not owned the land since last year.
Cllr Rooney said they have issued a retraction leaflet clarifying Mr Preston no longer owns the land but did so at the time of the complaints to Middlesbrough Council.
The police complaint refers to Electoral Commission guidance stating that “It is an illegal practice to make or publish a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of a candidate in order to affect the return of a candidate at an election.”
Under the Representation of the People Act 1983, there are criminal penalties in place for those convicted of making or publishing false statements about election candidates.
Mr Preston said:
“This is getting ridiculous. The smear campaign against me has gone beyond stupid now and I’m getting really angry.
“This is just the latest grubby little instalment of the ongoing campaign to undermine me.
“My genuine advice to all the other candidates is to take a deep breath, come up with some decent ideas for the town and start talking to voters. Basically, they should stop slagging me off and focus on their own campaigns.”
Regarding the police complaint, Mr Preston added:
“A quick internet search would have revealed that I am not the owner of the land, nor have I been for some time.
“The statement that I own the land was not only false but deliberately designed to cost me votes and impact the outcome of the mayoral election – perhaps it already has.
“At a time when I have faced ridiculous and puerile allegations about minor paperwork anomalies, it’s important that this rather more serious matter should be looked into by the police.”
A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said:
“We received an allegation of electoral malpractice. Any information provided to us will be assessed to see what, if any, offence has been committed.”
A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission said it was a criminal matter and would have advised the complainant to report it to the police.
A Labour Party spokesperson said:
“Mr Preston has complained about comments made concerning the state of land on Saltersgill Avenue.
“We have put out a leaflet in the area affected by these repeated blights, providing residents with clear and accurate information.
“We all want a better environment and that means everyone taking responsibility for it. This means businesses, the council and individuals taking responsibility for the properties and land they own and carrying out proper maintenance and not letting the area be spoiled for everyone else.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 27 Apr 2015