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LOCAL ELECTION WINNER WILL NOT BE DECIDED ON COIN TOSS

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Judges have ruled that a Cornish local election must be held again because two candidates tied for first place - an...
Judges have ruled that a Cornish local election must be held again because two candidates tied for first place - and a number of ballot papers that could have decided the issue were spoiled.

On June 7 this year Liberal councillor Paul Holmes was declared to have been re-elected to Cornwall CC, retaining his Illogan North seat from Liberal Democrat rival Terrence Rowe by 964 votes to 963.

Cllr Holmes - who has 16 years of local government experience - suffered the agony of three recounts on the night before he was declared the winner.

But a recount was held before a senior official at London's high court on 10 October which resulted in a tie, with each candidate being found to have received 962 votes.

Today Lord justice Kennedy and Mrs justice Hallett ordered a fresh election in the light of the recount. The judges will give reasons for their decision on Thursday (20 December).

Although at the high court recount 960 votes were initially counted for Mr Rowe, against 962 for Mr Holmes, all parties agreed Mr Rowe should be awarded another two disputed votes.

Today Lord justice Kennedy ruled the original election void and decided on a new poll rather than the other possible method of drawing lots or tossing a coin to find the winner.

Earlier Helen Mountfield, for Mr Rowe, drew the court's attention to two unperforated ballot papers, which could not be counted.

She argued that election legislation states that if they could have affected the outcome of the election, the judges would have no choice but to declare the original poll void.

Ms Mountfield also pointed to a number of other disputed ballot papers - including two with big crosses that went through boxes for four candidates - that were counted for Mr Holmes.

She added that of the 3,527 ballot papers handed out, only 3,525 votes were collected from the ballot boxes - and the missing votes may have been crucial.

After today's hearing Cllr Holmes, an electrician, said he was 'disappointed' by the outcome - but assured his supporters he would win the new election.

'I will win the new election by a larger majority than one.

'I'm an old Liberal. I've been in the party for 35 years and I was the only Cornish councillor who refused to join the Liberal Democrats in 1988.'

Piers Coleman, solicitor for Mr Rowe, said: 'The decision is what we expected and the court have agreed with what we have said all along. It's sad that it's come this far.'

Lord justice Kennedy yesterday ordered that the returning officer, Geoffrey Cox, should pay the costs of both Cllr Holmes and Mr Rowe. Returning officers have to be insured against such eventualities by law.

No date was set for the new election.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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