Ex-Ukip candidate admits fraud
A former Ukip parliamentary candidate has been ordered to complete community work after admitting an electoral fraud involving his own grandmother's forged signature.
Earlier this year, Matthew Smith was cleared of seven counts relating to fake signatures on electoral nomination forms submitted by the party in the 2013 Norfolk County Council elections.
He had been due to face a retrial at Norwich Crown Court over two final counts of causing a false statement to be made on nomination papers.
But today he pleaded guilty to one charge relating to a single form and the other was left to lie on the court file. He will now be disqualified from his position as a member of Norfolk County Council, the court heard.
Prosecutor Brett Weaver said Smith could have been jailed for a maximum of one year.
Referring to the count Smith admitted, he added: "Hand-writing analysis found this form did not contain any correct signatures and the expert found some similarities between Mr Smith's writing and some of the signatures, including that of his grandmother."
Sentencing him, Judge Anthony Bate said such offences risked undermining the "hard-fought" battle to improve reputation of politics since the age of rotten boroughs.
He added: "Most of your adult life has been devoted to pursuing a keen interest in local politics.
"At one time you had an interest in pursuing those ambitions at a national level which could not be fulfilled because of this case.
"This form was entirely bogus. Quite why you committed an act of utter folly is difficult to define.
"You could have achieved your aim, albeit in a more time-consuming way, perfectly honestly."
The judge ordered him to complete 200 hours of unpaid work for the community over the next year. He must also pay £3,227 in legal costs.
Smith, who was until now Norfolk County Council member for Gorleston St Andrews, had been selected to stand for Parliament in the key target seat of Great Yarmouth at this year's general election.
But he was suspended from the party after allegations emerged surrounding nomination forms submitted by Ukip in the 2013 elections, during which he acted as the party's agent.
Under election rules, all candidates standing as councillors must obtain 10 signatures on nomination forms.
The prosecution had alleged that seven out of eight forms submitted by Ukip in the Great Yarmouth area in that election contained forged signatures.
The form he was convicted over was for the candidate in the town's Magdalen ward.
Smith, 27, of High Street, Gorleston, was cleared of four counts of causing a false statement to be made in nomination papers knowing that they contained false signatures and three of making false nomination papers.
Piers Wauchope, mitigating, said: "The biggest penalty my client is going to receive is his disqualification from holding public office for five years.
"He is a young man who has devoted himself to politics since 2009.
"It is not just for five years - it is difficult to see somebody who has admitted this act ever standing for office again."
The Great Yarmouth constituency had been regarded as fertile ground for Ukip but the party's replacement candidate, Alan Grey, came in third in last month's poll. He increased Ukip's share of the vote from 2,066 in 2010 to 10,270 but incumbent Tory Brandon Lewis held the seat.
Giving evidence, Smith claimed that he submitted forms with genuine signatures but these were later substituted in an attempt to smear him.
He originally worked for the Conservatives in housing minister Mr Lewis's office, but fell out with the party after leaving acrimoniously in 2011.
Outside court, Smith said: "This was my first county council election and mistakes were made on this one particular form.
"I'm very sorry that I let down my party and the candidates involved.
"Nothing happened that cost anybody a single penny and this did not cost anybody a single vote."