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ELECTION COURT TO PROBE BLOCK VOTE 'SWAP'

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A Liberal Democrat election candidate was wrongly returned to office when 582 votes cast for a Labour candidate wer...
A Liberal Democrat election candidate was wrongly returned to office when 582 votes cast for a Labour candidate were given to him instead, it was claimed at London's High Court.

Following elections on 1 May 2003, Michael Kirkup from Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, was elected to Wansbeck DC to represent the College ward.

But his Labour rival, James Sawyer, of from Ashington, Northumberland, is challenging his election as 'unlawful' and his barrister Gavin Millar successfully argued there should be a recount.

After listening to 20 minutes of legal argument - including submissions made by Mr Kirkup himself - Mr Justice Jackson also ordered that a report on the matter should be filed to the election court.

Mr Millar told the judge that election officials had erroneously swapped the respective candidates' block votes, and Mr Kirkup received 582 votes intended for Mr Sawyer, who in turn got 376 meant for his rival.

The upshot of it all, said the barrister, was that Mr Kirkup was returned with 760 votes to Mr Sawyer's 563 - but if election officials hadn't blundered Mr Sawyer would have won by 769 to 554, he argued.

Mr Justice Jackson said it did 'appear' there had been a 'counting error'.

Earlier Mr Kirkup, a well-known local personality who writes books and musicals, had urged the judge to dismiss the challenge and said his fame explained why he polled more votes than expected.

He added that it wasn't until 2 May, the day after the election, that Mr Sawyer queried the election results, and he also argued the returning officer had then wrongly opened a bag of sealed ballot papers.

This, said Mr Kirkup, could jeopardise the legitimacy of the 'sacrosanct' ballot papers should there be a recount, as there was 'clearly an opportunity' for them to have been interfered with.

He did concede that there was no evidence to suggest the votes had been tampered with, but said that in the interests of justice it was arguable the whole election would have to be rerun.

Mr Justice Jackson said it would be up to a specially-convened election court to decide at a later date whether that should be the case after reading the report into the affair.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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