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21 February 2011, 12:56
A political opponent who falsely claimed in an leaflet that Portsmouth MP Mike Hancock is a paedophile has been found guilty of attempting to affect a result in last year's general election.
Liberal Democrat Mr Hancock, who represents the Portsmouth South seat, strenuously denied ever having sexual relations with any children under the age of 17 in the UK or abroad during the three-day trial at Southampton Magistrates' Court.
He said he was "absolutely not'' a paedophile and the suggestion by Les Cummings, 66, that he was had "sickened'' him.
Cummings, from Portsmouth, who was standing against Mr Hancock for the Justice and Anti-Corruption Party in the seat, falsely wrote on the A4 sheet: "Mike Hancock is a paedophile.''
It then showed a picture of Mr Hancock with children and the words: "Would you let him get this close to your children?''
Cummings alleged in the leaflet that was delivered to homes in Portsmouth that Hancock had an affair with a 14-year-old girl - called Miss A in court - during the 1980s, had been seen in bed with children while on charity work in Romania, and was corrupt and associated with known criminals.
Mr Hancock denied in court all the allegations printed in the leaflet.
But he did admit he had a "close and affectionate relationship'' with Miss A, whom he first met in her late teens in 1985, and it gradually developed until she married in about 1993.
He said the relationship had involved a "kiss and a cuddle'' but was "not sexual''.
Mr Hancock said he had had "a few'' extra-marital affairs he had told his wife about and they had been reported in newspapers.
The prosecution said that Cummings held a grudge against Mr Hancock because he was also a councillor and Portsmouth City Council had failed to apologise for sexual abuse Cummings suffered as a child while in care in the city.
He said he had become "obsessed'' with the MP and the leaflet was a "vendetta'' and a "smear campaign'' to discredit Mr Hancock and stop him being re-elected.
The court heard that Cummings' allegations were "rumour'' from several sources, including shamed former city councillor Jez Baker who had been jailed for corruption, and he had no evidence for it.
Miss A even contacted Cummings through solicitors to deny she had an affair with Mr Hancock when she was 14.
Cummings denied making a false statement to affect the return of the election under the Representation of the Peoples Act.
He told the court in evidence "it was and still is his 100% belief'' that Mr Hancock is a paedophile.
After Mr Hancock saw the leaflet on April 22 last year, he sought an injunction to stop its further distribution and publication.
He won the elections to parliament and to the city council with an increased majority.
Finding the case against Cummings, District Judge Anthony Calloway said he had shown "open contempt'' for Mr Hancock.
"I have no doubt that the allegations are untrue.
"The patchwork evidence provides no proper or reasonable basis for the extreme torrent of material contained within the leaflet.''
The court heard that Cummings is in poor health and he lives in sheltered housing on benefits.
Judge Calloway fined him £500 and said the penalty was a token amount considering the gravity of the offence.
He called the leaflet "horrendous'' and "appalling and distasteful''.
The maximum penalty for the offence is £5,000.