Top Conservative official takes leave of absence amid new election betting allegations in fresh blow for Sunak

22 June 2024, 23:24 | Updated: 23 June 2024, 11:36

A top Conservative Party official has taken a leave of absence over allegations he placed bets on the timing of next month's general election.

Nick Mason, the Tory Party's chief data officer, is being investigated by the Gambling Commission for allegedly betting on the timing of the election before the date had been announced.

A spokesman for Mr Mason said that it would be inappropriate to comment during an investigation but he denies wrongdoing.

He is understood to be cooperating with the investigation.

The revelations were first reported by The Sunday Times which claimed dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds.

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The allegations represent a fresh blow for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as three other Conservative figures have already been caught up in the scandal.

Tony Lee, the party's director of campaigns, and his wife Laura Saunders, the Tory candidate for Bristol North West, are also under investigation.

Along with them, Craig Williams, Mr Sunak's parliamentary private secretary and Tory candidate in Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, admitted to placing a "flutter" on the date of the election and is also being investigated.

Home Secretary James Cleverly told Sky News' Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips he had been told "very, very clearly" to not discuss the investigation.

He added: "I'm not in any way going to defend people who placed bets on that."

There have been reports of a wider betting circle, but Mr Cleverly said: "That's not my understanding. My understanding is it's a small number of individuals."

Mr Cleverly also said he has "no reason to believe" any ministers are involved in betting on the timing of the election.

A spokesman for the Gambling Commission said it was "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," the spokesman added.

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

Senior Tory Michael Gove condemned the latest reports and likened the controversy to partygate.

The levelling up secretary was reported as saying: "It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us.

"That's the most potentially damaging thing."

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Labour branded the fresh allegations "utterly extraordinary".

A party spokeswoman said: "Rishi Sunak promised integrity, professionalism and accountability, instead his weakness means he has overseen the same sleaze and scandal that have come to epitomise the last 14 years of Tory government.

"Rishi Sunak must take immediate action and suspend all those implicated in the Tory betting scandal."

The Liberal Democrats called on Mr Sunak to personally intervene after the allegations.