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DID PHOTOCOPIER BREAKDOWN LEAD TO ELECTION LAW BREACH?

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A broken down photocopying machine today landed a successful election candidate in hot water at London's High Court...
A broken down photocopying machine today landed a successful election candidate in hot water at London's High Court.

Martin Terry, who stood as an independent candidate for the Westborough Ward of Southend-on-Sea BC, won his seat in elections on 1 May.

But a leaflet he put out on the eve of the poll, entitled 'Do Not Be Fooled Again', fell foul of Draconian election laws which, if breached, can result in heavy penalties, including disqualification from public office.

It is an absolute requirement of the 1983 Representation of the People Act that all election material must bear the name and address of its publisher and printer on its face - and some of Mr Terrys' election leaflets did not.

Now Mr Terry is asking the High Court to waive the terms of the Act and rule that no further action should be taken against him.

He explained in a sworn statement to the court that he acted as his own agent in the election and, during the 'frantic production' of the eve of poll leaflet, his second hand photocopier had broken down.

He said he had no idea until it was too late that some of his leaflets did not bear the required name and address of the publisher and printer.

And he told the court the error had arisen from pure inadvertance and there had been 'no want of good faith or intention to mislead' on his part.

However, Mr Justice Collins adjourned the case after hearing from Trevor Oakley, who also stood as an independent candidate in the hotly contested poll.

Mr Oakley told the judge he had 'nothing personally against Mr Terry' but was anxious to ensure that the election had been a fair one.

The judge said Mr Oakley claimed that 'this was not a one-off mistake' and was making similar allegations in relation to another leaflet put out by Mr Terry during the election campaign and a poster on a notice board.

Adjourning the case to give Mr Terry time to meet Mr Oakley's claims, the judge said he appeared on the face of it to have won the election fair and square.

'Whether there's anything in these allegations at the end of the day, I don't know,' said the judge, but added that it was 'important that these matters are dealt with on the basis of the full information.'

He told Mr Terry: 'You may well have a proper answer to these allegations and you may well in the end persuade a judge that relief should be granted.'

The judge gave Mr Oakley seven days to particularise his allegations and Mr Terry was given seven days after that to make his reply.

The case will then return to court for a judge to decide whether the strict terms of the 1983 Act should be waived in Mr Terry's case.

In the meantime, Mr Justice Collins asked Mr Terry to write to the director of public prosecutions to find out his views on the case.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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