Court to rule on Phil Woolas re-election

Phil Woolas Mr Woolas narrowly won his Oldham East and Saddleworth seat

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A specially convened court is to rule on whether ex-immigration minister Phil Woolas broke the law by making false claims before the general election.

The MP won the Oldham East and Saddleworth seat by 103 votes but his defeated Liberal Democrat rival claims the vote was swayed by Labour leaflets.

Mr Woolas denies making false statements about Elwyn Watkins.

If the court rules against him, he could be fined and barred from public office and a fresh election triggered.

Judgement was reserved after the first case of its kind in 99 years was heard by two High Court judges, Mr Justice Griffith Williams and Mr Justice Nigel Teare, at Saddleworth Civic Hall in Uppermill, Oldham in September.

It was brought under Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act which makes it an offence to publish "any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate's personal character or conduct" to prevent them being elected - unless they believed it was true and had "reasonable grounds" to do so.

'Legitimate questions'

Legally, the onus is on Mr Watkins to prove his case if he is to win.

The specific allegation is that Mr Woolas put out leaflets suggesting Mr Watkins pandered to Muslim militants and refused to condemn death threats he said he had received from such groups.

There was also the claim his Lib Dem rival had illicitly channelled money for his campaign from a foreign donor - a rich Arab sheikh.

There was no truth in these claims and counsel for Mr Watkins accused Mr Woolas of stirring up racial tension by running a "risky" campaign designed to "galvanise the white Sun vote" because he was convinced he was going to lose his seat.

Mr Woolas defended his leaflets, saying it was legitimate to ask questions about how opponents fund their campaign and the political company they keep.

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