Five years too late! Electoral Commission finally apologises for Leave voter witch hunt


    John Pullinger, the watchdog’s new boss, has admitted that Vote Leave activists were subjected to “horrible” experiences that must never be repeated. His remarks are the first public apology by a senior figure over the way it pursued pro-Brexit activists such as Darren Grimes.

    The 27-year-old Brexiteer faced multiple investigations by the Commission and a criminal probe by the Met Police over several years before being cleared.

    Speaking to the Telegraph, Mr Pullinger said: “Darren Grimes is one that stands out.

    “I’ve looked very carefully at that … he had a horrible time.

    “The Commission has apologised for what happened to him and I take this opportunity to apologise again. What happened to him should not have happened.”

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    “Some of the stories … you’ve seen that has had an emotional impact, and we need to think about that.

    “And it can just feel like a byzantine bureaucracy … a lot of that is the artefact of the legislation. But we ought to try to do better.”

    His apology to Mr Grimes marks the first time the commission has publicly admitted it made mistakes over the activist’s treatment.

    Last year senior officials strongly defended their approach during a Commons committee hearing.

    And Mr Grimes confirmed at the weekend that the commission had not apologised to him directly.

    In a statement released in May 2020 after the Met dropped its investigation, the commission defended its actions.

    It said: “It is right that potential electoral offences are properly investigated by the appropriate authority.

    “We referred this matter to the police so that offences that lie outside of the commission’s remit could be properly investigated. We are pleased that the Met Police have taken the matter seriously.

    “The matters we asked the police to consider were separate and further offences to those we found Vote Leave had committed, for which we imposed fines, which they have paid.

    “When asking the police, as the proper authority to consider those matters, we did so in order that the evidence can be properly and fairly considered.”

    A £20,000 fine imposed on Mr Grimes was overturned on appeal.

    To ensure that these mistakes are never repeated, Mr Pullinger has unveiled a new “regulatory support programme” intended to help activists, campaigners and candidates “get things right” from the outset.

    His comments are clearly an attempt by the commission to shake off its pro-EU image.

    In 2019 then chairman Sir John Holmes said in a speech that he “regret[ted] the result” of the Brexit referendum.

    A further three commissioners were revealed to have made Remain-backing comments since the vote despite its code of conduct stating that they must “uphold its impartiality”.

    All three have now also left the commission.


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