Conservatives fined £10,000 for sending unwanted emails

The Conservatives have been fined £10,000 by the data watchdog for sending marketing emails to 51 people who did not want to receive them.

BBC News

The messages were sent in the name of Boris Johnson in the eight days after he became prime minister in July 2019.

The party was also criticised by the Information Commissioner for a mailshot in December 2019 after concerns had been raised.

The Conservatives said they accepted the fine and had improved processes.

It is against the law to send direct marketing emails, unless the recipient has given their consent.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it would continue to take action against “nuisance marketing emails”.

Between 24 July and 31 July 2019, the Conservatives sent out more than a million marketing emails.

The ICO said some of the emails were “validly sent” but the party did not have the necessary consent from 51 of the recipients.

The watchdog said the problem resulted from the Conservatives’ failure to transfer records of who had unsubscribed from its marketing emails when the party switched its email provider.

Later that year, during the 2019 December general election, the Conservatives also sent out nearly 23 million emails – something the ICO says resulted in a further 95 complaints.

The watchdog expressed concern that the party had conducted the “industrial-scale marketing email exercise” while the ICO’s investigation was still ongoing.

Stephen Eckersley – director of investigations at the ICO – said: “It’s really concerning that such large scale processing occurred during the ICO’s ongoing investigation and before the Conservative Party had taken all the steps necessary to ensure that its processing, and database of people who would receive emails, was fully compliant with the data protection and electronic marketing regulations.

“Getting messages to potential voters is important in a healthy democracy but political parties must follow the law when doing so.

“The Conservative Party ought to have known this, but failed to comply with the law.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office also said its investigation had taken a long time because “the party repeatedly failed to provide responses within time periods set, even when those periods were extended”.

“The commissioner does not consider that this was satisfactory compliance with reasonable requests from the statutory regulator,” it said.

A Conservative Party spokesman said it accepted the fine and had since “reviewed and improved our processes and are fully compliant with all prevailing data protection and electronic marketing legislation”.

A disgraced Lord gave the Conservatives £500,000 days after his peerage was forced through by Boris Johnson

  • Disgraced Conservative Lord Peter Cruddas has donated more than £500,000 to Boris Johnson’s party after becoming a peer.
  • Cruddas resigned as party co-treasurer in 2012 after offering undercover reporters access to then Prime Minister David Cameron in exchange for £250,000 in donations.
  • He was subsequently nominated for a peerage by Boris Johnson despite the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

Henry Dyer 

A Conservative member of the House of Lords, whose peerage was forced through last year by Boris Johnson despite his role in a cash-for-access scandal, has handed the prime minister’s party half a million pounds.

Lord Peter Cruddas donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party’s central office on 5 February 2021, only three days after he was introduced into the House of Lords where he now sits as a Conservative peer, the latest Electoral Commission records show.

Cruddas was nominated to become a member of the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in December 2020, despite objections from the House of Lords Appointments Commission, an independent group that vets nominations.

The Appointments Commission was unable to support the nomination owing to concerns over allegations made following an investigation by undercover reporters from the Sunday Times after he offered them access to the then Prime Minister David Cameron in exchange for £250,000 in donations.

Following the Sunday Times’s story, Cruddas stepped down as co-treasurer of the Conservative Party. He would go on to sue the Sunday Times for libel, initially winning £180,000 in damages. The Sunday Times then appealed the judgment, with judges in the court of appeal reducing the damages to £50,000, after they ruled that the paper’s central allegation of selling access to Cameron and other senior politicians were accurate.

The judges described Cruddas’s actions as “unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong”.

A letter from Boris Johnson to Lord Bew, the chair of the Appointments Commission, published by Downing Street in December along with the announcement of Cruddas’s peerage dismissed the Commission’s refusal to support the nomination.

He described the concerns as “historic” and assured Bew “that I see this case a clear and rare exception.” Johnson’s decision to overrule the Appointments Commission was the first time their advice had been overruled.

Johnson wrote: “The most serious accusations levelled at the time were found to be untrue and libellous. In order to avoid any ongoing concern, Mr Cruddas resigned from his post, and offered an apology for any impression of impropriety, and reflecting his particular concern for integrity in public life.

“An internal Conservative Party investigation subsequently found that there had been no intentional wrongdoing on Mr Cruddas’ part.”

Cruddas, a British businessman and philanthropist, donated a further £10,000 to the local Conservative association of Nickie Aitken, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, a constituency which has voted for the Conservatives since its creation in 1950. He has given more than £3 million to the Conservatives since 2009.

Cruddas also gave £10,000 to Conservative Voice, which describes itself as “an exciting and dynamic group set up to unite all generations of the centre-Right of the party […] a place for the grassroots to make themselves heard”.

The opposition Labour party said the donation raised serious questions.

“The Conservative Party that brought us allegations of cash for access when Peter Cruddas was Treasurer seems to have turned its attention to peerages,” Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour Party Chair, said in a statement.

“Whether it’s handing out taxpayers’ money to their mates or giving peerages to disgraced donors, there is always one rule for the Conservatives and their chums and another for the rest of us.”

Professor Liz David-Barrett at the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption said: “This is yet another example of the Prime Minister disregarding advice from the public bodies that are there to uphold standards in public life, in this case ignoring the fact that Peter Cruddas is understood to have failed the vetting process. That completely undermines these public bodies and puts the UK on a very slippery slope of declining standards.

“We will never know whether there is a link between political donations and elevations to the Lords, because those conversations happen in secret. But in this case, the timing will lead people to draw the conclusion that there is a link.”

Cummings’ care homes claim could lead to corporate manslaughter charges

Criminal lawyers watched Dominic Cummings’ electric testimony at the health and science select committees last week with considerable interest. Not just because every select committee cries out for forensic cross-examination, but because if some of Cummings’ key claims are true then legal alarm bells should sound.

Alex Bailin

Cummings’ central claim was “We were told categorically in March that people would be tested before they went back to care homes. We only subsequently found out that that hadn’t happened … The government rhetoric was we put a shield around care homes … it was complete nonsense.”

Following Cummings’ testimony, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, was specifically asked in parliament whether he had indeed told the prime minister that patients being discharged from hospital would be Covid-tested before re-entering care homes. His response was that the government had followed clinical advice, which was not a direct answer. He later added that testing could only be carried out for people being discharged to care homes once the necessary capacity had been built – implying they had not been tested but still not clarifying what Downing Street had been told by him and his department.

Of course, politically motivated testimony needs to be treated with caution, but if Cummings’ claims are true – that there was a policy for patients to be discharged to care homes without being tested – then the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has difficult questions to answer. The fundamental issue to be addressed is whether the DHSC implemented a policy that forced care homes to readmit infected patients knowing that they had not been tested.

Hancock’s truthfulness on the topic is legally a side issue. The real question is whether such a reckless policy was a gross breach of duty that created an avoidable risk of death. If so, then there are serious questions to be asked about whether the DHSC could be liable for corporate manslaughter. Part of the rationale for the enaction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act in 2007 was to enable the aggregation of fault within an organisation to establish liability and to limit so-called crown immunity, which had previously provided a legal shield to government departments from homicide prosecutions.

Although the act still immunises public authorities from certain policy decisions, such as the allocation of public resources or emergency services’ rescue responses, it is doubtful that a policy that effectively forced care homes to import Covid-infected patients into a highly vulnerable environment would be shielded from prosecution. It would not matter if the policy had been formulated by a number of senior individuals who were collectively, rather than individually, at fault. The DHSC certainly owes discharged hospital patients a duty of care and that duty must extend to those with whom they reside.

If the DHSC were to argue that it had no choice whether to implement such a policy, because the testing capacity at that time made it impossible to test discharged patients, that claim would have to be scrutinised under the legal microscope at a corporate manslaughter prosecution. A jury in such a prosecution might well be interested that in February the government advice was little short of extraordinary: “[There is] currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the community … it is therefore very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.”

That guidance was hastily withdrawn two weeks later. Yet on 2 April, government guidance was merely that discharged patients should isolate before re-entering care homes – no mandatory testing requirement was advised. Although some care homes decided to implement their own routine testing, it was not until 15 April that the DHSC finally published guidance that required compulsory testing of all those discharged to care homes. That week, it was announced that almost 100 care homes had reported Covid outbreaks within the previous 24 hours. Some 40% of all Covid-deaths in the first wave occurred in care homes: a total of almost 20,000 deaths. The testing capacity during that period would have to be assessed very carefully against that backdrop.

That disturbing chronology appears to support Cummings’ testimony that DHSC policy was initially to direct that discharged patients should be returned to care homes without mandatory testing – and that policy was only changed after the virus had firmly taken hold in care homes and many lives had avoidably been lost as a result. If correct, that would potentially place the DHSC in a very serious position as regards liability for corporate manslaughter. Further details should emerge during the public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic. Although evidence at a public inquiry is usually protected from subsequent use in criminal proceedings, criminal lawyers will be watching very carefully.

  • Alex Bailin QC is a barrister who specialises in criminal and human rights law

Homes refused as they would ruin unspoiled Devon coastline – Bloody Corner

Independents have had a strong presence on the Torridge District Council for much of its history, with no political party having won a majority until 2015. In 2015 the Conservative party won a small majority of 2 with 19 of the seats on the council, however the council returned to no overall control in 2019 after a large number of independents were elected. 

Obviously not happy with “Build, build, build”  – Owl

Daniel Clark

Plans for 39 homes for the edge of Northam in the ‘undeveloped coast’ have been refused by councillors.

The scheme, for land at Bloody Corner, was rejected by six votes to three by Torridge District Council’s plans committee on Thursday morning.

Planning officers had recommended that the scheme be granted outline planning permission, but councillors went against their views and turned down the controversial plans.

There had been 77 objections to the application, with no letters of support from the public, and despite Torridge not having a five year land supply, tilting the balance in favour of approval, the committee felt that the detrimental impact it would have was so large that the scheme should be refused.

In red, where the homes for Northam would have gone

In red, where the homes for Northam would have gon

Proposing refusal, Cllr Dermot McGeough said that the development would alter the character of the site within the Undeveloped Coast, and this was the grounds for refusal, adding: “It would have demonstrable harm to the residential amenity, so I propose we refuse regardless of the fact that we don’t have a five year land supply. I don’t think we should approve this.”

Committee chairman Cllr Chris Leather added: “The key to this is the protection of the coast and estuary side zone and the detrimental impact to people in the area will be huge if it is developed and I am absolutely opposed to this development.

“We are not short of development sites in Northam. This is in the undeveloped coast and contrary to that, and I just cannot see how this can be recommended. For me, looking at the balance, I am strongly in favour it should be refused.”

In their report which recommended approval, officers had said that the 39 dwellings proposed would make a valuable contribution to the housing stock within Northam at a time when the Local Planning Authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of housing land, and significant weight must be given to this issue, and 30 per cent of these dwellings would be affordable homes, which would provide a social benefit.

It added: “The proposals would deliver economic benefits associated with the creation of employment opportunities during construction and to the local economy from 39 new households. Biodiversity net gain at the site would also be delivered by the proposal, which would also provide on-site green space provision to meet the needs of the future occupiers of the site and the surrounding area.

“The development would alter the character of the site within the Undeveloped Coast and would adversely affect the setting of the memorial stone at Bloody Corner, but it is considered that the harm to the memorial stone would be outweighed by the provision of affordable housing, which is a clear public benefit associated with the proposal, and the adverse impacts of granting planning permission do not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.”

But councillors decide that the fact the site was in the Undeveloped Coast and therefore against the coast and estuary strategy, the impact it would have on residential amenity, it was outside the development area, and that have a detrimental effect on the area, outweighed the benefits and voted for refusal by six votes to three.