More names expected to come out in betting scandal - as Tory candidate says she will 'fully cooperate'

20 June 2024, 07:34 | Updated: 20 June 2024, 18:38

More political figures are being looked into over bets placed on the timing of the general election, a gambling industry source has told Sky News.

Two Tory candidates are already being investigated by the Gambling Commission over alleged wagers placed on the date of the 4 July contest.

An industry source told Sky News that "more names" are being looked at, though police "are not involved".

Follow live: Tory candidate 'considers legal action'

It risks throwing Rishi Sunak's campaign into further turmoil after it emerged on Thursday that Laura Saunders, the Tory candidate for Bristol North West, is being looked into by the watchdog.

She has worked for the party since 2015 and is married to the Conservative Party's director of campaigns, Tony Lee.

Mr Lee "took a leave of absence" from his role on Wednesday night, a Conservative Party spokesman told Sky News.

It is not known how much money Ms Saunders placed or when the bet was made.

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, she said she will be "cooperating with the Gambling Commission" investigation.

She also said she is considering "legal action against the BBC" claiming their initial story was "premature" and "in breach of her privacy rights".

The full statement, released by Ms Saunders' solicitor, said: "As the Conservative Party has already stated investigations are ongoing.

"Ms Saunders will be co-operating with the Gambling Commission and has nothing further to add.

"It is inappropriate to conduct any investigation of this kind via the media, and doing so risks jeopardising the work of the Gambling Commission and the integrity of its investigation.

"The publication of the BBC's story is premature and is a clear infringement of Ms Saunders' privacy rights. She is considering legal action against the BBC and any other publishers who infringe her privacy rights."

The incident comes a week after the prime minister's close parliamentary aide Craig Williams, the Tory candidate in Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, was revealed to have placed a bet on a July election date three days before the prime minister announced it.

The prime minister's close protection officer has been arrested and suspended over alleged bets about the timing of the election.

Labour Party campaign sources told Sky News they noticed the odds on a July election narrow the day before Mr Sunak announced it on 22 May.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, who is stepping down after 19 years as an MP, told Sky News' Breakfast with Kay Burley: "It's deeply disappointing and upsetting.

"But I have to say it's the exception rather than the rule."

He later said the whole episode is "deeply regrettable", and added: "I can tell you how the world will think it looks, which is not great."

In the hours after it was revealed Ms Saunders' bet was being looked into, the Conservatives deleted a social media post they had put up the previous day featuring a video of a roulette wheel and the caption: "If you bet on Labour, you can never win."

A Conservative spokesman told Sky News: "We have been contacted by the Gambling Commission about a small number of individuals.

"As the Gambling Commission is an independent body, it wouldn't be proper to comment further, until any process is concluded."

A Gambling Commission spokesman told Sky News: "The Gambling Commission regulates gambling in the interests of consumers and the wider public.

"Currently, the commission is investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election. This is an ongoing investigation, and the commission cannot provide any further details at this time.

"We are not confirming or denying the identity of any individuals involved in this investigation."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for Ms Saunders to be suspended and said it is "very telling" Mr Sunak has not already done so.

"If it was one of my candidates, they'd be gone and their feet would not have touched the floor," he added.

The officer who has been arrested is a member of the Met's Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP) Command, which provides personal close protection to ministerial VIPs and members of the Royal Family.

Sky News understands several bets were placed by the officer, with at least one of them being a three-figure sum.

The Met Police said the matter was immediately referred on 14 June to officers in the force's directorate of professional standards, who opened an investigation. The officer was also removed from operational duties.

In a statement, the Met said: "The officer was subsequently arrested on Monday 17 June on suspicion of misconduct in public office. He was taken into custody and bailed pending further enquiries."

Mr Sunak said he was "disappointed" about Mr Williams after it emerged last week that he had bet on a July election.