Derby election fraud: activist gets 15 months

This post first appeared on Derby Telegraph. Read the original article.

A political activist from Derby who “struck at the heart of our democracy” when he who “conned” people into signing nomination papers has been jailed.

Christopher Fernandez knocked on peoples’ doors with a petition purporting to be collecting signatures to save Moorways Swimming Pool.

But he then used those signatures on nomination papers so members of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition could stand in eight wards at 2016’s Derby City Council election.

The 60-year-old, of Chaddesden, was found guilty of 12 counts and pleaded guilty to two further counts of election fraud during a trial in December. He was cleared of two further counts.

Sentencing him to 15 months in jail, Judge Peter Cooke said: “This offending strikes at the heart of our democracy.

“I have to reflect on why you did this and you have never said why, denying it at trial and making up what is frankly a cock and bull story which both the jury and I rejected.

“Your offending is aggravated by the sheer scale and determination you showed in getting nominations by corrupt means.

“Consecutive sentences must be imposed on each ward and it is with a heavy heart that I tell you I cannot suspend that.”

During his trial Gareth Roberts, prosecuting at Derby Crown Court said Fernandez, of Wingfield Drive, was the local agent for eight TUSC candidates at the 2016 city council elections.

He said in March 2016 Fernandez presented himself to Derby City Council with nomination papers for candidates of this party.

Days later agents for other parties did the same and it was noticed that some of the signatures of nominees were the same as those presented by Fernandez.

James Coutts, prosecuting, said: “What he did was to con people into nominating people standing for his party.

“He did this in a straight forward way and that was to use an emotive local issue from the time, namely the proposed closure of a local swimming pool that had it shut would have left a large part of Derby without a pool.”

Opening his case at the trial, Mr Roberts said: “The council began an investigation and people (who signed the nomination papers) were visited.

“They said that a man his 50s, tall, grey hair had knocked at their door and told them he was collecting signatures against the closure of Moorways swimming pool.

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“One of them was a mother who had children that went to the pool, and said she was only too happy to sign the petition.

“Most of the people who were spoken to said they had signed a petition to save the local pool.

“Each of them were adamant they had not signed a nomination paper for any political party.”

Mr Roberts said a total of 70 people were visited whose names appeared on nomination papers endorsing TUSC candidates in eight council wards.

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He said: “80% of them gave a similar account and that they had been duped into thinking they were signing a petition and instead their signatures had been used to nominate candidates they did not know for a political party they had never heard of.”

Fernandez was sentenced for 14 counts of making false statements on candidate nomination papers under section 65a of the Representation of the People Act.

Katrina Wilson, mitigating, said: “He has reached the age of 60 and has not bothered the courts before.

“He is married and has been with his wife since 2006 and they planned to adopt but that adoption has been stopped because of these proceedings.

“He was a support worker for a number of years and was dismissed as a result of what the jury found to be his dishonest behaviour”

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