Tory candidate will ‘co-operate’ with probe amid election betting scandal

Tory candidate will ‘co-operate’ with probe amid election betting scandal

The betting scandal engulfing Rishi Sunak’s faltering campaign intensified when a Tory candidate said she “will be co-operating with the Gambling Commission” probe over allegedly bets on the date of the election.

Laura Saunders and her husband, the Conservatives’ director of campaigning Tony Lee, are among a number of people with links to Mr Sunak’s party or No 10 caught up in allegations about betting on the timing of the July 4 contest.

With just two weeks until polling day, Mr Lee took a leave of absence amid reports the couple were being investigated by the gambling regulator.

In a statement released on Ms Saunders’ behalf, Nama Zarroug, a solicitor at Astraea Linskills, said: “As the Conservative Party has already stated, investigations are ongoing.

“Ms Saunders will be co-operating with the Gambling Commission and has nothing further to add.

“It is inappropriate to conduct any investigation of this kind via the media, and doing so risks jeopardising the work of the Gambling Commission and the integrity of its investigation.

“The publication of the BBC’s story is premature and is a clear infringement of Ms Saunders’ privacy rights. She is considering legal action against the BBC and any other publishers who infringe her privacy rights.”

News of the investigation into Bristol North West candidate Ms Saunders emerged after the arrest of one of the Prime Minister’s police protection officers and the previous revelation of a Gambling Commission investigation into his parliamentary aide Craig Williams over betting allegations.

Betfair data appears to show a flurry of bets on a July poll placed on May 21, the day before Mr Sunak called the election, adding to concerns about political insiders gambling on its timing.

Following a few months of people wagering a few pounds on a summer poll, betting spiked on the day prior to the announcement, including some in the hundreds of pounds at odds that would have delivered handsome profits in the thousands.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s campaign has been hit by a betting scandal (James Manning/PA)

Cabinet minister Michael Gove admitted the situation “doesn’t look great” for the Tories.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said figures being looked into over the claims were “incredibly stupid and venal”, telling The News Agents podcast that their behaviour was “unacceptable and whatever happens to them wouldn’t be hard enough in my book”.

A Conservative spokesman said: “We have been contacted by the Gambling Commission about a small number of individuals.

“As the Gambling Commission is an independent body, it wouldn’t be proper to comment further, until any process is concluded.”

The Gambling Commission said: “Currently, the commission is investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election.

“This is an ongoing investigation, and the commission cannot provide any further details at this time.

“We are not confirming or denying the identity of any individuals involved in this investigation.”

Labour and the Liberal Democrats called for the Tories to suspend both Ms Saunders and Mr Williams.

Sir Keir Starmer said: “If it was one of my candidates, they’d be gone and their feet would not have touched the floor.”

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Police said they were informed by the Gambling Commission that a police constable from the force’s Royalty and Specialist Protection Command was being investigated over the alleged bets.

The police officer, who has been removed from operational duties, was bailed pending further inquiries after they were taken into custody on Monday on suspicion of misconduct in a public office.

The revelations about Mr Williams emerged last week, and he admitted it was a “huge error of judgment” to have a “flutter” on the election.

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak’s woes deepened as former Tory minister Chris Skidmore became the most senior figure yet to switch his support to Labour.

“For the first time, I cannot vote for a party that has boasted of new oil and gas licences in its manifesto or that now argues that net zero is a burden and not a benefit,” the Conservatives’ ex-net zero tsar wrote in the Guardian.

“Net zero is one of its five key priorities, and for this reason I will be voting Labour at this election.”

Responding to Ms Saunders’ threat of legal action against the BBC, a spokesperson for the broadcaster said: “We are confident in our journalism.

“As Laura Saunders is a candidate standing for election, it is clearly in the public interest to report allegations made against her.”