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City council election fraud probe
9:00am Friday 26th May 2006 in Oxford
POLICE have launched a fraud investigation after a batch of voting registration forms submitted to Oxford City Council contained "irregularities".
The forms, some 60 in total, were applications to register on the city electoral roll, which entitles an individual to vote.
The Oxford Times has learnt that one or perhaps more individuals were attempting to gain votes in the names of people who did not exist.
Suspicion was aroused after it was discovered the forms all had striking similarities.
The Oxford Times has also been told the forms related to addresses in the East Oxford area, but the outcome of the police investigation will not affect election results and there will be no need for a by-election.
Election officers became suspicious when the forms were handed in on March 13 the deadline for registering to vote in the city council elections held on May 4.
Deputy returning officer Martin John said: "There were a number of claim forms that came in that, when they were being processed, we felt things were not quite right.
"This batch just didn't look right for various reasons.
"This is the first time in my experience here we have had claims on this scale that have looked odd. This is a serious issue."
Declaring false information on a voting registration form is a criminal offence.
A city councillor said: "It was the uncanny similarity between the handwriting and the ink used and the fact this person was stupid enough to put them all in one batch on deadline day."
Oxford police spokesman Tim Wiseman said: "Thames Valley Police economic crime unit was handed around 60 voter registration forms by the deputy returning officer on March 21 after irregularities were noticed.
"An investigation is currently under way, however, at this time there have been no arrests."
This is the second voting scandal to hit the city council this year.
In the run-up to the recent elections, Oxford University student Charles Steel, standing as a Conservative candidate in Holywell ward, found himself at the centre of a fraud probe after it was alleged signatures on his official nomination papers were forged.
Thames Valley Police's economic fraud unit is still investigating the claim.
A spokesman for Oxford City Council said: "Irregularities were noticed when processing a large batch of registration claims.
"In accordance with national procedure these were referred to Thames Valley Police for investigation.
"It is inappropriate for us to comment further due to the police investigation."
The scandal surrounding Charles Steel prompted five senior officers of the Oxford University Conservative Association to resign.
Mr Steel is now acting president of OUCA after his fellow committee members, including president Simon Clarke, quit en masse in protest at his handling of the situation.
The vacant posts have been filled by junior committee members.
Charles Cooke, former treasurer of the Oxford University Conservative Association, said: "It's not in chaos, but it's fairly risible and something of a laughing stock."