Ford cries foul over PSNI inaction on Dirty Tricks leaflet

Alliance leader David Ford has criticised the PSNI for failing to pursue those involved in producing and distributing election leaflets urging Alliance voters to opt for the Ulster Unionist Party in last year’s Westminster election. The leaflets, from a group calling itself ‘Concerned Citizens for a Shared Future’, was apparently targeted at Alliance voters and was produced in ‘Alliance colours’ (I take that as meaning yellow.) The Electoral Commission had initially investigated the matter, before referring it to the PSNI in April 2006.For the record, the Alliance vote did not seem to be affected by the stunt, with its 15% considerably up on its 10.9% in the 2003 Assembly and 12% in the 2001 Westminster election. The UUP, with 27% of the overall vote, was well beaten by Sammy Wilson, who claimed 50% of the vote in 2005.

  • Bob Wilson

    The issue here is not whether the vote was affected but the fact that the law was flagrantly breached and the authorities whose job to enforce it have done nothing. Apparently the police say effectively that its too difficult because of ‘ a lack of co-operation by those being investigated.’
    I mean how difficult is this:
    1. You turn up at the printers in Dundonald and ask them ‘who paid you to print these?’
    2. If they cite:
    a. the name of the design company (which apparently the one the UUP uses!) you go and ask them.
    b. the name of the bogus/front group you ask the Royal Mail to whom and where the PO Box mail was sent. If this doesn’t work you ask the bank on which the payment was drawn who is in charge of the account.
    3. You visit the design company and ask them who paid them – again if they cite the Group follow b above.
    4. If anybody messes you about you charge them with wasting police time.

    Classic case of police not having the relevant experience so opting to do nothing – and hence pave the way for future breaches.

    Do your job Mr Orde!

  • Crataegus

    Bob Wilson

    Totally agree with you, this should be an easy one to pursue. Are we to assume that this is a measure of normal police standards, and if so little wonder so much crime is unsolved? Bone idle, incompetent or simply over worked, harassed and stressed out. Leave you to make up your own mind.

    This sort of dirty trick is becoming all too common and does need to be taken a lot more seriously. From my remote experience of these things few parties are completely free from dubious propaganda. Last council election some Labour type turned up to my place in London canvassing and what was said about two of the other parties candidates really was unnecessary and probably incorrect. How do you stop the blatant lies? How do politicians expect us to take them seriously if they don’t set standards for themselves?

  • Garibaldy

    What laws were allegedly broken here?

    The system in England is ridiculous. My favourite one from the last election was postal votes for a whol block of flats that hadn’t been asked for going missing.

  • Curious

    There are strict laws on how much candidates (and third parties) can spend per constituency. Unlike at national level, were spending is totally out of hand, by and large the limits (which are quite tight) are observed. This prevents individuals and groups essentially trying to ‘buy’ seats by swamping them with publicity.
    This Group almost certainly broke those limits.
    Also who are they? – did they file a return of their expenditure? Was it a UUP front? and if so should it be added to UUP spending. If so was Lady Slyvia’s spending over the maximium limited? and if so she should be disqualified.

  • Curious

    Very good questions – ones that we all would like answered. I think we should see just how low a political party is prepared to go. The reluctance of the police and the electoral commission to pursue this is unacceptable.

    At the time it seemed to be well known who the printer and the designer were – are they cooperating or keeping quiet? How can they get away with not cooperating? The whole thing stinks.

    BTW, it wasn’t just the Alliance Party affected by this, all candidates were and so I think all those affected have a right to know who was behind the “Concerned Citizens” group who put these out.

  • Bob Wilson

    Electoral Commission investigation into Concerned Citizens for a Shared Future.

    Official A: David Ford is whinging on about some third party group putting out leaflets in support of UUP. What is the law on third parties?

    Official B:
    Under the PPERA, third parties that wish to spend more than £10,000 in England, or £5,000 in each of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland supporting or opposing a party or group of candidates must register with the Commission as a recognised third party. Once registered as a recognised third party, a third party can spend more than £10,000/£5,000 across the UK, but is required to manage its finances in accordance with the PPERA’s regulatory regime.

    Official A: Okay are Concerned Citizens registered?

    Official B: No and we’ve no idea who they are – but we have a PO Box. I’ll write to them

    Some time later

    Official A: Any response?
    Official B: No what do we do?
    Official A: Pass the buck to the peelers and when they write and get no response they can tell Ford they are ‘not pursuing the matter further was a lack of co-operation by those being investigated.’

    Register of Controlled Expenditure by Third Parties
    Poll: UK Parliamentary general election on May 05, 2005
    Third Party Spending in NI

    National Autistic Society [The]£414.00
    Uncaged Campaigns Ltd£323.00
    UNISON – The Public Service Union£2,222.00

  • Garibaldy

    Curious and Bob,

    Thanks for the info. Although if the sum involved was less than £5,000 does that mean that it would be perfectly legal for a group to put out such leaflets?

  • Garibaldy

    Irrespective of the amount, where did the dosh actually come from? Party account? Private individual? Candidates?

  • Bob Wilson

    Yes. But the Commission should satisfy itself that it was under £5,000.
    In my informed opinion it would be virtually impossible to get that quantity of literature printed for under £5,000.
    That brings into the whole different realm of what printers INVOICE for and what does the Commission do if the printer says £4,999 and an objective assessment reckons it was twice that?

  • Garibaldy

    I understand the concerns, but I was unclear what law if any had been broken, so Ford seems to me to be being unreasonable. If the printer won’t reveal any info and he’s in Dundalk, what can the cops do?

    BTW, simultaneous posting at 2.32 – joined-up thinking from NI Conservatives in action

  • Bob Wilson

    The printer is in Dundonald – not a million miles from Mr Orde’s office!

  • Bushmills

    Every bloddy fool in any way involved in the last election knows who was responsible for this dirty trick – the UUP. For some strange reason Dr. Kerr didn’t mention names in his book…

  • Setanta

    Personally, I want to see more dirty tricks against the Alliance party not less….

  • Bushmills

    Sentanta

    Personally I couldn’t care less. But I think it was a despicable action by the UUP and is demonstrative of just how p*ss poor and frankly dishonest their 2005 election campaign was.

  • boshank

    Bushmills,

    HAH! and you are quite prepared to bandy about comments about dishonesty without irony?

    I applaud you!

  • Bushmills

    boshank

    As a UUPer I would expect to applaud dishonesty.

  • Bushmills

    insert “you” between expect and to

  • boshank

    bushmills,

    lmao, im sorry ill not be lectured about honesty from a DUPer, anything else is open season.

  • Crataegus

    As a matter of interest does anyone know how many of this type of irregulary have been pursued in the UK, say in the last six years?

    We regularly hear of all sorts of accusations spoof leaflets, fake manifestos and dodgy posters and as Garibaly pointed out the whole postal voting fiasco is utterly deviant and is a real temptation to the unprincipled and desperate. If there are few prosecutions is this because the main parties are up to their neck in ‘creativity’ and have no will to pressure for action?

  • Garibaldy

    Crat,

    Reluctance to see the voting rules tightened up in NI certainly did delay the changes that were eventually introduced. Undoubtedly too many vested interests for the boat to be rocked. For example, a stamp similar to that used in nightclubs could have effectively stamped out (so to speak) a lot of personation and multiple voting. Still hasn’t happened.

  • David Ford

    Just to add a few facts – Bob Wilson, Craetagus and Curious have most of them:

    We know that several tens of thousands of leaflets were printed for ‘Concerned Citizens’.

    We know that there were distributions in (at least) seven constituencies. Curiously South Antrim doesn’t seem to have featured – perhaps it was difficult to maintain that there was a significant difference between UUP and DUP here?

    We know that some (at least) of these were delivered commercially and not by volunteers. (Bob at posting 9 mentioned printing costs, but design and delivery cost too.)

    We know that it was impossible that the legitimate bill for this would have been less than the £5,000 allowed under PPERA.

    The DUP seem to have discovered a similar leaflet produced by ‘Concerened Citizens for the Union’, but I suspect that this was not pushed to the full extent after the publicity round the leaflet aimed at Alliance.

    Within a few hours of my challenging Roy Beggs on the UTV programme from Larne, the Tele etablished who held the PO Box number used by ‘Concerned Citizens’.

    Chris Thornton is a good journalist, but a rookie Constable just out of Garnerville has more power to question suspects.

  • Harry

    If they were black print on yellow paper they could certainly have produced several tens of thousands for under 5000 quid. If they’re full colour that’s a different story but even then they could be produced at cost price.

    What’s illegal about this anyway? Is it not part of free speech that anyone can distribute whatever they like calling for whatever political opinions and actions they like (within reason) without being prevented or deemed illegal? What exactly illegal has occurred here?

  • Bob Wilson

    These were full colour – high gloss – no expense spared.
    Re legality – read earlier posts.
    So who held the PO Box – I think we should be told?!

  • Crataegus

    Harry

    The simple answer is if a political party funds its own propaganda through a third party it is in effect in breach of the regulations as the expenditure is not disclosed by them. In addition they are not claiming ownership.

    However you raise an interesting point about free speech. Should a group of wealthy persons be able to swamp the country with propaganda in the service of the political party they serve? I think not. Also should we tolerate press barons who do likewise? I think they should have their wings clipped but how?

    As you are probably aware the BBC & UTV have some weird formula for coverage based on previous results and number of candidates standing. I have heard people from smaller groupings complain about how this merely maintains the status quo as say the DUP will have more coverage than the NI Labour Party even if both field the same number of candidates. To my mind this is absurd as it is in a way saying the Labour candidates are lesser.

    Local papers are generally very careful to give all candidates equal coverage and for the life of me I can’t see a reason why television should not do likewise after all candidates should be treated equally before the electorate rather than ‘this is so and so’ he is important because he is associated with that horde. Many of the ‘so & sos’ are truly mediocre as they merely get elected on the coat tails of the party they are allied with. On their own they would sink into justified obscurity.

  • Watersider

    Crat

    Agreed. If a party has legal limits on its expenditure, it shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from spending by someone else. This doesn’t seem to have been an exercise by an individual with a grievance and a photocopier, but a professional job.

  • Bob Wilson

    Equal amounts of the Concerned Citizens for the Union leaflet were produced. I hope the DUP will do their duty and pass this leaflet on to both the police and the Electoral Commission and ask for an investigation.
    The authorites need to proceed in the belief that these leafelts were distributed too.
    They need to find out who was behind this group and to question whether the legal limit was broken by this group too.

    Its probably just me but the icing on the cake about this whole affair is that those behind these groups had the hypocrisy – and the contempt for the electorate to produce two leaflets one aimed at Alliance voters, one aimed at DUP voters with largely contradictory messages.

    In case anybody queries it. Yes both produced by the same printer and design company – ones the UUP have used in the past

  • Thrasymachus

    “So who held the PO Box – I think we should be told?!”

    Why don’t you write to it and ask?

  • The clue’s in the statement

    Perhaps the Ulster Youth Orchestra could tell us what role they had in the operation?

  • What’s Up

    Bob

    Belfast Telegraph has more tonight. Says PO Box No was held by Circle Creative Communications who published other leaflets for UUP last year. Apparently over a million.

  • Watersider

    Tele also says that CCSF registered last year, but Bob W says that they did not. Are details on the web anywhere saying who did register, on behalf of whom?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    This is pretty pathetic stuff from the authorities.

    Maybe I’ll just photoshop me one of the old UUP election posters and run off a few thousand copies. Perhaps something like “Decent people… wouldn’t dream of voting UUP/UVF” with a photo of Reg and a Shankill butcher on it? Then I could distribute them round east Belfast and north Down in the run-up to the next election, safe in the knowledge that by simply shutting up, I’d get away with it. Why not?

    I reckon I could do it for less than five grand too…

    Mysterious accounts appearing out of thin air and a suspicion of having a hand in these leaflets… what next?

  • Yellow_Belly

    “Mysterious accounts appearing out of thin air and a suspicion of having a hand in these leaflets… what next?”

    The Alliance party getting a MP?

  • Apparently they registered 2 days before polling and AFTER David Ford kicked up a fuss.
    It is not clear if the other UUP front ‘Concerned Citizens for the Union’ registered at the same time.
    NEITHER have filed (or registered) Third Party Expenditure returns which they would be require to do if the spent more than £5,000 – which undoubtedly they did.
    They broke the law and no one cares
    – as Gonzo says what signal is that sending.

  • Watersider

    Bob says they registered as a third party, the same as the Telegraph article tonight. But the Electoral Commission website doesn’t have them listed as a registered third party and they aren’t one of the three groups that registered as having made donations in the General Election (NI section).

    Alliance itself is listed as a registered third party, but it doesn’t say who for. Must be a throwback to the European campaign for John Gililand. So if the website shows a registration from 2004, why not Concerned Citizens from 2005? Did they really register at all? Did they register and then cancel it when things got hot?

    Why is the Electoral Commission website so unhelpful? How do you find out?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Maybe the LibDems could ask a question in Parliament?

  • violinist

    The Clue

    I don’t think that the members of the Ulster Youth Orchestra know anything about this. Are you suggesting that the PR person might know? Back in 2001, he suggested that ‘the future’s bright, the future’s Lemon’ and is also credited with ‘decent people’. I don’t know if it’s his style.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Would the UUP agree that no ‘decent people’ would be involved in such underhand dirty tricks?

  • elvis parker

    Am I following this correctly? Rather than stand on their own record and appeal using their own message openly the UUP set up two fronts in a pathetic attempt to put the squeeze on Alliance voters on one side and DUP voters on the other?
    So the Party didnt believe it could win honestly with its own message – so it pretended to be some form of impartial third parties?

  • UUPs Grim Repear

    Michael Kerr and Tim Kerr.
    Ran the two fronts from inside Cunninghan House?

  • What’s Up

    Who are the Kerrs? Employees or what?

  • Watersider

    It doesn’t seem that there is much chance of action judging by (lack of) response in statements by PSNI and Electoral Office on Ford’s complaint.

    Carry on fiddling, lads. Nobody in authority gives a stuff, even if Alliance, Conservatives and Sinn Fein are agreed that there is something rotten. Or maybe the PSNI are too busy with the UUP’s undeclared bank accounts and so on.

    It makes you wonder why Ervine and co would want to associate with “decent people”.

  • Watersider

    Sorry. That second paragraph was only suggesting that there may not be many experts on election law in the PSNI. I am sure it isn’t the case that there is any link between difficulties managing the UUP’s bank accounts and CCSF.