Betting probe Conservative director is party’s former South Glos political assistant

ONE of the Conservative Party figures embroiled in a scandal over betting on the date of the general election is a former South Gloucestershire Council political assistant.

Tony Lee, who stepped back from his role as the party’s head of campaigning after it was revealed that he and his wife were under investigation by the Gambling Commission, was the political assistant to the Conservative group on the council earlier in his career.

Mr Lee’s wife Laura Saunders, a fellow Tory employee, was selected as the party’s candidate for the Bristol North West seat at the general election.

But on June 25 the party announced it could “no longer support” her and another parliamentary candidate, Craig Williams.

As well as Labour incumbent Darren Jones, Ms Saunders is also on the ballot paper with Mr Lee’s previous partner Mary Page, who is the Green candidate for the constituency.

After leaving his role at South Gloucestershire Mr Lee, who attended Kingsfield School in Kingswood before studying modern history at Oxford University, went on to several roles within the Conservative Party, including field campaigner, deputy director of voter communication and strategic political and campaign advisor to former Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, who was one of the high-profile casualties in this year’s local elections.

A spokesperson for Ms Saunders has said that she will be cooperating with the Gambling Commission investigation, and “has nothing further to add”.

Mr Lee has not commented on the investigation.

The Conservative Party said he had taken “a leave of absence” from his role at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

The party initially said it had been “contacted by the Gambling Commission about a small number of individuals” but it “wouldn’t be proper to comment further” while the independent body was conducting its process.

However Mr Sunak later announced that an internal investigation was underway and in its subsequent announcement the party said: “As a result of ongoing internal enquiries, we have concluded that we can no longer support Craig Williams or Laura Saunders as Parliamentary Candidates at the forthcoming General Election.

“We have checked with the Gambling Commission that this decision does not compromise the investigation that they are conducting, which is rightly independent and ongoing.”

The investigation was launched after Mr Williams, the Conservative candidate in Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr and a close aide of the Prime Minister, was alleged to have placed a £100 bet on the date of the general election shortly before it was announced by Rishi Sunak in May.

The surprise announcement of the July 4 date caught most politicians, including many Conservatives, off-guard.

Mr Williams has since apologised and said he made a “huge error of judgement”.

Both he and Ms Saunders will remain on ballot papers, as it is too late to withdraw.

A police officer from Mr Sunak’s police protection detail has been arrested in connection with the scandal, and five other officers were being investigated as the Voice went to press.

The Gambling Commission has confirmed it is “investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election”.

However a spokesperson declined to reveal further details or confirm the identities of anyone involved in the investigation.