Tory candidate being investigated over alleged election date bet is 'married to Conservative Director of Campaigns'

20 June 2024, 10:12 | Updated: 20 June 2024, 14:07

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari is joined by Levelling Up and Housing Secretary Michael Gove | 20/06/24

By Charlie Duffield

A Conservative candidate being investigated over an alleged bet on the date of the general election is said to be married to the party’s director of campaigning.

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Laura Saunders, the Conservative candidate for Bristol North West since 2015, is reportedly being investigated by the Gambling Commission over an alleged bet she made about the date of the General Election - and is the wife of Tony Lee, the Conservative Director of Campaigns.

Tony Lee has taken 'a leave of absence' amid investigations into the betting scandal, meaning the Conservative election campaign, which has already fallen 20 points behind Labour, is in crisis mode.

The inquiry makes Ms Saunders the second Tory candidate to be investigated over a bet on the General Election date.

Michael Gove has said that Tory candidates being investigated is a ‘betrayal of trust’ in the Prime Minister.

Speaking to LBC’s Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, the Housing Secretary said that the investigations were ‘beyond embarrassing’ for the Conservative party.

Asked about how the inquiries reflected on the partys, Mr Gove said: “It’s beyond embarrassing, it’s wrong - it’s also the principle here.

“It’s not just a betrayal of trust in the Prime Minister, which is very bad, it also means that other punters are losing out because of insider information and that means the system isn’t operating fairly.”

He added: “It’s beyond bad to use information like that to secure an advantage.”

A Conservative spokesman said of the inquiry: “We have been contacted by the Gambling Commission about a small number of individuals.

“As the Gambling Commission is an independent body, it wouldn’t be proper to comment further, until any process is concluded.”

Read more: Watch in full: LBC's exclusive phone-in interviews with Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak

Read more: Rishi Sunak set 'to become first PM to lose seat' in election wipeout with Conservatives down to just 53 MPs, poll finds

Laura Saunders, the Conservative candidate for Bristol North West
Laura Saunders, the Conservative candidate for Bristol North West. Picture: Laura Saunders

It comes after it emerged last week that Craig Williams, who served as the Prime Minister's parliamentary private secretary and is the Conservative candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, is being investigated by the regulator after he “put a flutter” on the election date.

The Tory candidate wrote on X last week: “I've been contacted by a journalist about Gambling Commission inquiries into one of my accounts and thought it best to be totally transparent.

"I put a flutter on the General Election some weeks ago. This has resulted in some routine inquiries and I confirm I will fully cooperate with these. I don't want it to be a distraction from the campaign. I should have thought through how it looks."

A Conservative Party spokesperson said at the time: "We are aware of contact between a Conservative candidate and the Gambling Commission. It is a personal matter for the individual in question.

"As the Gambling Commission is an independent body, it wouldn't be proper to comment further, until any process is concluded."

The Guardian reported Mr Williams placed a £100 bet on a July election just days before Mr Sunak named the date as July 4.

Michael Gove said the investigations are a 'betrayal of trust' in the Prime Minister.
Michael Gove said the investigations are a 'betrayal of trust' in the Prime Minister. Picture: Alamy

On Wednesday, it was also revealed that one of Rishi Sunak’s close protection officers had been arrested over alleged bets on the date of the election.

The officer, part of the prime minister's security detail, was initially suspended before their arrest over alleged bets about the timing of the general election.

The Metropolitan Police said they were contacted by the Gambling Commission last Friday, who confirmed they were investigating the alleged bets.

The police constable is from royalty and specialist protection command, the Met said.

The Gambling Commission confirmed it was investigating "the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election".

A spokesperson said: "The Gambling Commission regulates gambling in the interests of consumers and the wider public. "Currently the commission is investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election.

"This is an ongoing investigation, and the commission cannot provide any further details at this time."

The Metropolitan Police said, meanwhile: "We can confirm that on Friday, 14 June, the Met were contacted by the Gambling Commission who informed us that they were investigating alleged bets made by a police constable from the Met's Royalty and Specialist Protection Command, which were related to the timing of the General Election.

"The matter was immediately referred to officers in the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards, who opened an investigation, and the officer was also removed from operational duties.

"The officer was subsequently arrested on Monday 17 June on suspicion of misconduct in public office. He was taken into custody and bailed pending further enquiries. The matter has also been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

"The Gambling Commission continues to lead the investigation into the alleged betting offences, and our investigation is running in parallel to that."

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