THE leader of Southampton Conservatives is being investigated for election fraud, Hampshire Police has confirmed.

The force says it is working with the Crown Prosecution Service and Electoral Commission to assess whether an offence has been committed after pens with “Vote Jeremy Moulton for Freemantle” were delivered to residents in the ward ahead of the city council elections on May 3.

This was reported by fellow candidate Ed Thompson, who says he wanted to make sure all prospective councillors were competing on a “level playing field”.

Initially raised by the Viva Europa candidate as an enquiry with Southampton’s returning officer Mark Heath, he was advised that this is a grey area and that potentially making gifts in this way could be considered as ‘Treating’ – and may potentially break rules under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

If found guilty, Cllr Moulton, who has been on the council since 2002, could face a criminal conviction.

The incident, Viva Europa says, shares similarities to one in 2015, when Southampton Itchen UKIP parliamentary candidate Kim Rose handed out sausage rolls to voters. This led to allegations that he tried to influence voters. Nevertheless, in that case, the police felt no further action was needed.

A spokesperson for Viva Europa said: “Whilst we believe Mr Moulton has been foolish and a little arrogant, we are not suggesting he had a deliberately corrupt intention.

“We would be surprised if the outcome is anything other than a slap on the wrist.”

However, this has now led to calls for the contentious area of ‘Treating’, to be cleared.

The spokesperson added: “We do believe that it is right that this is taken seriously and steps are taken to firm up guidance. Everyone should be on a level playing field when it comes to elections and not all parties would be happy or able to hand out pens to postal voters.

“If nothing else, steps need to be taken to ensure the electorate doesn’t want to find their letterboxes filled with stress-balls, coasters and other tat.

Southampton test Conservatives told the Echo: “We have not been contacted by the Police concerning an allegation.”