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STOURPORT MAYOR FREED OVER ELECTION CASE - COURT REPORT

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A town's civic chief,jailed for six months for arranging a bogus local election candidature,won his freedom today....
A town's civic chief,jailed for six months for arranging a bogus local election candidature,won his freedom today.

The judge who sentenced 61-year-old Patrick James Duffy,former Tory mayor of Stourport on Severn,Hereford and Worcester,took the view that he had 'subverted' the electoral process.

But Lord Justice Simon Brown,sitting in London with Mr Justice Waterhouse and Mr Justice Pill,ruled that no electoral offence had,in fact,been committed.

Duffy's breach of the provisions of the 1981 Forgery and Counterfeiting Act in his use of a false instrument,amounted to a technical offence that should have attracted a heavy fine,said the appeal judge.

The judge substituted an absolute discharge for Duffy's jail term,in view of the 'unpleasant' month he had already spent in custody since his jailing by Mr Justice Judge at Stafford Crown Court on December 17.

But Lord Justice Simon Brown went on: 'We profoundly disapprove of the tactic pursued by this appellant.It was deplorable and he should feel shame rather than pride.' 'It may well be that the electoral law should be altered,' the judge added.

Duffy,acknowledged by the trial judge to have spent a lifetime of public service,was brought to court after a local campaigning journalist,a Mr White, tried to trace the independent candidate backed by Duffy for seats on Stourport Town Council's Central Ward and Wyre Forest District Council's Mitten Ward.

Duffy had arranged for a close friend and her husband to propose and second Mr Nicholas Smith's candidature.But his signature on the nomination form was attested to by them in his absence.

The address given for him,Lion Hill,Stourport,was one which Duffy had an interest in but was not Mr Smith's residence.The ploy was to block opposition votes,but Mr Smith,who was in any event ineligible to stand,was not elected.

Lord Justice Simon Brown said Duffy's claim,that he had been wrongly sentenced on the basis of electoral malpractice rather than disregard of the 'niceties' in the completion of a nomination document,was irresistable.

It could not be right to use a technical offence as a peg upon which to hang conduct which however reprehensible,was permissible.

It had not been permissible for the judge to hold that Duffy had participated in a fraud on the electorate. He had allowed himself to be deflected away from the actual criminality of the offence.

Duffy,believed to be the first serving mayor to be imprisoned, would have been banned from holding public office for five years had his appeal failed.

His counsel, Mr Patrick Harrington,QC, told the appeal judges earlier that Duffy's jailing had been 'a sad end to an illustrious,if modest, career in politics in this area.'

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