Brexit Party candidate set to drop legal challenge over Peterborough by-election result
A legal challenge against the result of the Peterborough by-election seems likely to be withdrawn by Brexit Party candidate Mike Greene.
Mr Greene - who came second in June’s contest behind Labour’s Lisa Forbes - has applied to the High Court for an Election Petition to be withdrawn just a week before it was due to be put before judges at a pre-trial hearing, citing the huge cost of pursuing the action and the likelihood of a general election as the reasons.
Mr Greene had alleged that an activist who had in the past been convicted of vote rigging was part of Ms Forbes’ campaign team - an allegation strenuously denied by both Ms Forbes and Labour - and that electoral fraud had taken place during the campaign, although there were no suggestions of any wrongdoing by Ms Forbes.
Mr Greene also claimed that CCTV footage they had requested from one polling station in Peterborough had been destroyed.
Mr Greene told the Peterborough Telegraph: “When we put this complaint in, there was no expectation of a General Election. Now that is looking far more likely and if it were to occur in the middle of this then the issue would become invalid.
“We have been told that in cases similar to this the costs have been £400,000 and £600,000. Given the circumstances and the likelihood of another election coupled with the costs of taking this action forward it did not make sense to continue.
“We absolutely felt there were legitimate causes for concern around this by-election that it was right to raise.
“In the case of one particular polling station where we had concerns we were told the CCTV had been deleted and so, again, although frustrating, without that [potential] evidence and taking all these circumstances into account we felt it was right to withdraw.”
The court was due on Friday to set a trial date for the petition, but instead it will now consider whether it should be withdrawn.
A Labour spokesperson said: “It was clear from the outset that this was a bogus complaint intended to make excuses for the Brexit Party’s defeat and to undermine the will of the people of Peterborough who chose to elect Lisa Forbes as their MP.
“There has never been a shred of evidence to support Mike Greene’s claims and we say he must justify to the court why he has wasted the police, the court’s and the Labour Party’s time and resources on baseless allegations which he is now seeking to withdraw.
“If the court grants his request to withdraw the petition, we expect Mike Greene to be ordered to pay our legal costs.”
Mr Greene, who starred in the Secret Millionaire TV series, has been vocal on social media alleging voter fraud by Labour during the high profile by-election where he came second by 683 votes.
The by-election was held after sitting MP Fiona Onasanya was removed from Parliament following the first successful Recall Petition in UK history.
Ms Onasanya was sacked by her constituents after being jailed for three months for perverting the course after she was found to have lied over speeding points.
The by-election was also the first time the Brexit Party had contested a Parliamentary election, with the campaign in the pro-Leave constituency receiving huge attention both nationally and locally.
Election Petitions have to be filed within 21 days of the result being declared, with Mr Greene’s case focused on Labour activist Tariq Mahmood who was jailed in 2008 for postal vote interference
The party alleged that Mr Mahmood had been part of Labour’s campaign after he was pictured on several occasions with Ms Forbes and party leader Jeremy Corbyn ahead of polling day. He was also pictured at the election count in the room where votes were counted.
The Labour Party has strenuously denied that Mr Mahmood was part of their campaign and previously branded allegations of electoral fraud as “false and baseless”.
Mr Mahmood, who has attended election counts for a number of years, also denied being part of the Labour campaign, describing the claims as “smears”.
Brexit party leader Nigel Farage described Peterborough as a “rotten borough” over postal vote fraud allegations.
Conservative deputy leader of Peterborough City Council, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, also alleged there was “harvesting” of postal votes.
The election saw 9,898 postal votes returned at a rate of 69.6 per cent, with 400 rejected.
Cambridgeshire police investigated five allegations of electoral fraud relating to the by-election but found no evidence that offences had been committed.
The city council, which ran the election, was inundated with so many queries and complaints in the days after the result that it issued a lengthy statement to try and reassure people that there was no evidence to suggest wrongdoing.
A report released by election observation group Democracy Volunteers, which sent activists to polling stations in Peterborough on the day of the vote, said there had been high levels of attempted ‘family voting’, but police and polling staff were praised for intervening.