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Phil Woolas Avoids Prosecution Over Election Leaflets

Phil Woolas

Our former Labour MP, Phil Woolas, isn’t going to face prosecution over the lies he told in election leaflets. Prosecutors today announced that a criminal case wouldn’t be in the public interest, because Mr Woolas had already been punished enough.

Mr Woolas was stripped of his victory in last May’s general election, and banned for standing for public office for three years, for making untrue statements about his Liberal Democrat rival Elwyn Watkins.

A specially-convened election court imposed that penalty following a hearing in Uppermill last year, which took place after Mr Watkins brought a legal challenge.

The reviewing lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service, Simon Orme, today said in a statement: “When deciding to prosecute, we must consider whether a sufficient civil penalty has already been imposed on the suspect.”

He continued: “In the circumstances, I have concluded that the serious nature of the allegations has been adequately addressed and it is unlikely that a criminal court would impose any significant further penalty. On that basis, a prosecution is not needed in the public interest.”

One of the controversial leaflets.

The former Immigration Minister was found to have broken the law by falsely claiming in his election literature that Mr Watkins had tried to woo so-called “Muslim extremists” during what was a bitterly-fought general election campaign. Mr Woolas, who had been our MP since 1997, eventually clung on to the seat by just 103 votes.

However, the verdict of the two High Court judges who presided over the case meant that result was declared void. It was the first time in 99 years that an MP had lost his seat because of this sort of criminal wrongdoing.

Mr Woolas, who was also thrown out of the Labour Party, later criticised the law in question for being “out of date” and said he didn’t regret anything which had been said in his election leaflets.

A by-election was held in January, and Labour’s Debbie Abrahams defeated Mr Watkins to become our new MP.

When contacted by Saddleworth News Mr Watkins, who lives in Delph, said he didn’t have anything to add following today’s announcement.

The full statement from the CPS can be read here.

You can read a Saddleworth News report from the day the election court returned its verdict here.

More articles about Phil Woolas are here. Full coverage of the by-election is available here.


  • Phil says:

    Thank the lord for that…. If we start prosecuting politicians for telling lies we would have to buy back Australia and put it to it’s original use… We don’t have enough prisons !

  • David Boothroyd says:

    Mistakes are creeping in again:

    1) It was not “the first time in 99 years” that an MP was unseated due to criminal wrongdoing. The last time was Oxford in 1924 when Frank Gray was unseated because his agent paid a bribe (and before that, Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1923 due to a deliberate understatement of election expenses). The North Louth case in 1911 was the merely last under the provision relating to false statements of fact about a candidate.

    2) There is nothing “special” about an election court. If an election petition is lodged and pursued, the election court is the ordinary mode of trial. It is possible to transfer the case to the High Court and that is called a “special case”, so really it’s the other way round. (A “special case” only happens when there is no dispute about the facts, which there was here)

    3) Phil Woolas had his membership of the Labour Party suspended. He was not expelled.

  • Richard says:

    David Boothroyd,

    I’m rather nonplussed by your comment that “mistakes are creeping in again” and am not entirely sure what you mean, but anyway:

    1. Yes that’s right. I’d actually written “this sort of criminal wrongdoing” initially before taking it out to make it read better, but I’ll reinstate it.

    2. I didn’t say the court was ‘special’ merely that it was ‘specially convened’ – which it was. Courts don’t sit in Uppermill Civic Hall very often, even though the hall is on Court Street!

    3. Yes but Harriet Harman said explicitly that Phil Woolas wouldn’t be welcome back in the Labour Party in future, so I think ‘thrown out’ is a fair expression of that.


  • Edward McVeigh says:

    David – Can’t see that your post was helpful in anyway.

    We are so fortunate to have this site as a news hub, that Richard puts a lot of effort into. Saddleworth was becoming neglected in terms of communications, and now in addition to 2 free newspapers we have a fantastic news website/forum and a TV channel.

    Richard is a first class reporter, this site has done so much to keep us informed over the past year – having a far greater impact than any newspaper can. Look at the amount of contributions over the past 6 months and you’ll agree this is a valauble news resource. By the time the Saddleworth extra freesheet is out each week, it’s more than likely that Richard has covered it on this site.

    Keep up the good work Richard!

  • Richard says:

    Thanks for your kind comment Edward! And thanks too for reading the site.

  • Phil says:

    I can only agree with previous post I have learned an awful lot about the area I live in due to this site! Some of the things I have learned I have found appalling, but it’s thanks to this site that I’m finally taking interest in the area I live 🙂 keep it up ….. Please 🙂

  • John Aston says:

    Phil Woolas was temporarily adminstratively suspended from the Labour Party and has since been fully reinstated. The decision is made by the National Executive of the National Labour Party and not Harriet Harman. It should be noted that Phil Woolas has always disputed the judges interpretation of the leaflets but is not able to appeal against their opinion as there is not legal mechanism to do so. Lord Justice Thomas said at the High Court judicial review following the election hearing:
    “…may I merely add, as we have made very clear in the judgment, Mr Woolas has always said that he does not agree with the findings of the Parliamentary Election Court on fact. There is no avenue of appeal and we have underlined that and would wish it to be noted that that is the case, Parliament did not allow for an appeal on the facts. Second, we should add that on the basic argument of law Mr Woolas substantially succeeded as well.” and did not award any costs against Mr Woolas which was seen as significant given the effect on the renumeration of opposing council

  • Cllr Ken Hulme says:

    mmmmm Not good law I think – I tend to agree with all those who think a more appropriate course of action would have been to order a re-run of the election and allow the voters, not the judges, the final say.

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