Cash-for-honours inquiry ‘focused and proportionate’

The Electoral Commission’s failure to define a “commercial loan” hampered the cash-for-honours investigation, a report for the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) has concluded.

A review of the handling of the £1.4 million investigation said the Electoral Commission did not provide “robust oversight” of the legal definition of a commercial loan.

Senior investigations concluded this lack of definition had caused “investigative difficulties” during the 19-month enquiry.

Electoral law says loans offered at commercial rates are not considered donations, meaning they do not have to be made public. Loans must be disclosed if they have been offered at overly favourable rates.

The cash-for-honours investigation was launched after it was alleged wealthy political backers had been nominated for peerages in exchange for loans to the Labour and Conservative parties.

More than 130 people were interviewed during the course of the inquiry, including Michael Howard and Tony Blair, who gain notoriety as the first prime minister to be interviewed by police at No 10.

The MPA ordered a report into the investigation after the Crown Prosecution Service declined to press any charges.

The finished report will be presented to the MPA next month but has been seen by journalists in advance.

It denies details were leaked to the media throughout the inquiry.

Investigators concluded: “The Metropolitan Police Service remains very strongly of the view that, despite some media comment to the contrary, no material was leaked to the press from within the investigative team.

“This view is further confirmed by the fact that the most significant evidence obtained by the investigation has never appeared in the public domain.”

Senior investigations said they were satisfied with many aspects of the investigation, which is ruled was “focused and proportionate”.

The Metropolitan police had been criticised for the arrest of Downing Street aide Ruth Turner in a “dawn raid”.

The report defended the action, however, noting: “Particular measures were put in place to ensure that the arrests were effected as efficiently as possible and in such a manner as to minimise any individual embarrassment.”

The officer in charge, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, was questioned by MPs last month over Ms Turner’s arrest.