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Cabinet minister ‘claimed to have won £2,000 betting on election date’


By PA News

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A Cabinet minister claimed to have won more than £2,000 by betting on the timing of the General Election, it was reported as the gambling row dominating the final stages of campaigning deepened on Tuesday.

Scotland Secretary Alister Jack has denied breaking any watchdog rules after the BBC reported he had told the broadcaster he placed wagers on June and July polling dates.

The minister is the latest figure to have become embroiled in the controversy over alleged betting on the timing of the election after Rishi Sunak pulled support from two Tory candidates amid a Gambling Commission investigation.

Labour also suspended its candidate Kevin Craig, who is facing a separate probe after he placed a wager on himself losing the contest for the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich constituency to the Conservatives.

And Welsh Conservative member of the Senedd, Russell George, stepped back from the shadow cabinet on Tuesday as it emerged he too was facing a probe over alleged betting on the timing of the July 4 poll.

But Mr Jack, who is not seeking re-election, insisted he “did not place any bets on the date of the general election during May – the period under investigation by the Gambling Commission”.

“I am very clear that I have never, on any occasion, broken any Gambling Commission rules”, he said.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said he has not broken any Gambling Commission rules (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said he has not broken any Gambling Commission rules (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“Furthermore, I am not aware of any family or friends placing bets. I have nothing more to say on this matter.”

He is said to have claimed he placed a bet at odds of 25 to 1 and made £2,100 but later dismissed the remarks as “a joke”.

The SNP said the minister had a “duty to come forward with the full details” of what he did, with the party’s Scotland spokesman Tommy Sheppard saying: “As a senior Cabinet member in the Tory Government, and a well-known confidant of Sunak, Jack is obviously in the loop when it comes to Conservative Party planning.”

The Prime Minister withdrew backing for two Tory candidates after coming under mounting pressure within the party to take a tougher stance on the alleged use of inside information to bet on the timing of the July 4 poll.

Because nominations have closed, Craig Williams, who is standing in Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, and Laura Saunders, who is standing in Bristol North West, will still appear on the ballot paper.

But a Conservative Party spokesman said: “As a result of ongoing internal inquiries, we have concluded that we can no longer support Craig Williams or Laura Saunders as parliamentary candidates at the forthcoming General Election.

“We have checked with the Gambling Commission that this decision does not compromise the investigation that they are conducting, which is rightly independent and ongoing.”

Mr Williams, who was the Prime Minister’s senior parliamentary aide, said he had “committed an error of judgment, not an offence” and intended to “clear my name”.

The row has overshadowed the Tory election campaign in recent days as the Prime Minister battles to close his party’s 21-point average poll deficit to Labour.

Meanwhile, Scotland Yard said five more officers – in addition to a member of Mr Sunak’s protection team who was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of misconduct in a public office – were alleged to have placed bets.

The officers are based on the Royalty and Specialist Command, the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command and the Central West Basic Command Unit, but none of them work in a close protection role.

A Met Police spokesman said: “It is still the case that only one officer is under criminal investigation.

“We have, however, been passed information from the Gambling Commission alleging that five further officers have placed bets related to the timing of the election.

“The Gambling Commission continues to investigate these matters. The officers have not been arrested but the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards has been informed.”

Decisions on whether the five officers will be subject to any restrictions will be taken in due course, the Met said.

James Cleverly, Rishi Sunak and Lord Cameron at the ceremonial welcome at Horse Guards Parade, London, for the state visit of Emperor Naruhito and his wife Empress Masako of Japan (Eddie Mulholland/Daily Telegraph)
James Cleverly, Rishi Sunak and Lord Cameron at the ceremonial welcome at Horse Guards Parade, London, for the state visit of Emperor Naruhito and his wife Empress Masako of Japan (Eddie Mulholland/Daily Telegraph)

As well as the parliamentary candidates, two senior Tory officials have taken a leave of absence at a crucial point in the election campaign, after being drawn into the Gambling Commission investigation.

Ms Saunders’s husband, Tony Lee, the party’s director of campaigning, and chief data officer, Nick Mason, have stepped back from their duties.

The Prime Minister had faced demands from within the party to act on the candidates over concerns the issue was further damaging the Conservatives’ electoral chances.

Following the decision to pull support, Tory peer and former Brexit secretary, Lord Frost, said: “We get there in the end.

“But why did it take so long to come to a decision that seemed so necessary right from the start?”

Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker called for those who placed bets on the election date to be suspended by the party on Monday night, saying “the Prime Minister would have to answer” for why he had not acted by then.

Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth said: “The Conservatives who sought to line their own pockets by betting on the election date are not fit to be candidates for Parliament.

“Rishi Sunak now needs to come clean with voters across the country and tell them exactly how many of his Conservatives are implicated and who they are.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “This should have happened immediately when these scandalous revelations emerged, but instead Rishi Sunak has dithered and delayed.”

Labour administratively suspended Central Suffolk and North Ipswich candidate Mr Craig after it emerged he was facing a Gambling Commission investigation.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

A party spokeswoman said: “With Keir Starmer as leader, the Labour party upholds the highest standards for our parliamentary candidates, as the public rightly expects from any party hoping to serve, which is why we have acted immediately in this case.”

Mr Craig said he “deeply” regretted putting a bet on the Tories to win in the seat he is contesting but said it was done “with the intention of giving any winnings to local charities”.

“I will comply fully with the investigation,” he added.

Mr George, who represents Montgomeryshire in the Welsh Parliament which covers the same area that Mr Williams represented in Westminster, said he would “co-operate fully” with the Gambling Commission investigation.

He said he had stepped back from the shadow cabinet so as not to become an “unnecessary distraction”.

Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies released a statement saying all other members of the Welsh Conservative Group had “confirmed that they have not placed any bets”.

Welsh Labour accused Mr Sunak of delay over his decision to suspend the two Tory parliamentary candidates and asked: “How long will it take Andrew RT Davies to suspend Russell George?”

A spokesperson for the Gambling Commission said: “We are not confirming or denying the identity of any individuals involved in this investigation.”

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