Tom Watson has called for a judicial inquiry into the activities ahead of the Brexit referendum of the Leave.EU campaign and its main backer, Arron Banks, after claims the group faked a video and photos connected to migrants.
Watson, the deputy Labour leader and shadow culture secretary, said the inquiry should have criminal powers. “We cannot allow those who cheat and lie to mock and subvert our democracy (using millions from who knows where) to prevail,” he said in a tweet.
In a joint statement, Banks and his close aide Andy Wigmore, who was head of communications for Leave.EU, said they would welcome such an inquiry.
Watson’s call followed an investigation by Channel 4 News that said Leave.EU was involved in the creation of faked photos and a faked video as potential campaign tools shortly before the referendum in 2016.
The video, posted on social media days before the vote, was presented as an “undercover investigation”, with footage purporting to show migrants crossing the Channel to the UK.
The video appears to show a small boat collecting people from northern France and taking them, unchallenged, to the UK coast. But Channel 4 News said satellite logs tracking the boat’s movement show the men – who were British nationals and not migrants – were taken between Kent ports, and were never in France.
The eventual video was published on social media days before the referendum, and amassed more than 600,000 views, also receiving coverage in some newspapers.
The other incident involved photos of a woman being seemingly attacked on a London street by a man wearing a hooded jacket, and another showing a woman being grabbed from behind as she walked into a shop.
Channel 4 News said the pictures appeared to have been staged. The programme said it had seen emails showing the photos were sent to Wigmore.
Other emails showed Wigmore forwarded them to the Leave.EU press team, the report said, saying: “Migrants beating up girl in Tottenham Saturday … Can we get this ready to go as a press release.” In the end the photos were not used.
The programme said both the photographs and video were connected to Jonathan Pollen, a former SAS soldier who now works for a corporate intelligence agency that is part of Banks’s business empire. Pollen did not respond to requests for comment, it added.
In a joint statement to the Guardian, Banks and Wigmore said a judicial inquiry into the referendum was “the last thing [Watson] or any of the remoaners wants as they will be found out and the activities they profess to have been conducted legally found to be far worse than anything the leave side did”.
They added: “Two years ago, we called for a judicial inquiry and we still stand by that today. If that’s what Watson wants then bring it on, he would have our full support.”