Angela Rayner probe won’t be drawn into ‘political spats’, says police chief

Angela Rayner faces questions over the sale of the house she claimed she was living in
Angela Rayner faces questions over the sale of the house she claimed she was living in - Belinda Jiao

The chief constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has vowed the investigation into Angela Rayner will not be drawn into “political spats”.

Stephen Watson said the force would be investigating “fairly” and “impartially” as it looked at claims that the Labour deputy leader wrongly designated her Stockport home as a main residence on the electoral register, which is a criminal offence.

She also faces questions over the sale of the house she claimed she was living in. If it was not her main residence, she may have been liable to pay capital gains tax on the sale.

Ms Rayner has repeatedly denied the allegations and her leader Sir Keir Starmer has branded them a smear.

The force originally said it would not investigate claims before changing its mind after receiving a letter from James Daly, the Conservative deputy chairman.

GMP then faced questions about a potential conflict of interest for Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, who has political oversight of the police in the city.

Mr Burnham later insisted that he would have nothing to do with the investigation.

‘My job is a simple one’

When the chief constable was asked if he believed there was a trend of politicians trying to involve the police to undermine their rivals, and whether that bothered him, he replied: “Not particularly … people may assert that … my job is a simple one … We investigate allegations of crime.

“We do so fairly, impartially. And we go where the evidence leads us.

“Of course, we operate in a system and one always has to be careful that we’re not drawn into political spats, all the rest of it, which is why candidly, I’m very loath to make comment …

“Because all it does is it plays into that space and that for me, is not the role of the police. We should just simply play that stuff with a straight bat.”

The chief constable refused to confirm whether Ms Rayner would be interviewed under caution.

It is thought that officers have contacted Labour’s deputy leader to arrange an interview at a date and time to be agreed by both. The interview would almost certainly be conducted at a local police station in Manchester and Ms Rayner would be questioned under caution.

‘Draw a line under this matter’

Ms Rayner has previously said that she has been looking forward “to sitting down with the appropriate authorities … and draw a line under this matter”, suggesting that she will attend the interview voluntarily, obviating any need to arrest her and the embarrassment that would cause.

A Labour spokesman previously said: “Angela has been clear that she will cooperate with any investigation. We do not plan to give a running commentary.

“We remain completely confident that Angela has complied with the rules at all times and it’s now appropriate to let the police do their work.”

The chief constable also seemed to indicate that it was by no means certain that the case would reach the stage of being sent to the CPS to be considered for prosecution.

Asked if the investigation would end up with a file going to the CPS, he said: “Not necessarily. Depends what comes out of the investigation … We’ll see where it ends up.”

‘What it says on the tin’

He insisted that the police’s job was to look at the facts when people make allegations and then, in a time-honoured fashion, decide whether a crime had been committed.

He added: “We just do what it says on the tin.”

Around a dozen officers are reported to be investigating Ms Rayner.

She bought her £79,000 council property in Vicarage Road, Stockport, under the right-to-buy scheme.

A year later, she had a child with Mark Rayner, a Unison official and her then-partner. He owned a house in Lowndes Lane, about a mile away. The couple married in 2010.

Ms Rayner owned the house on Vicarage Road for eight years and, all the time she was there, she was on the electoral register. Under electoral rules, voters are expected to register at their permanent address.