Ukip has expelled one of its highest profile female MEPs after her assistant was caught in a newspaper sting apparently trying to inflate an expenses claim.
The party said it has kicked out Janice Atkinson, who was also a parliamentary candidate in Folkestone and Hythe, and her chief of staff, Christine Hewitt, for bringing the party into disrepute.
The pair were expelled after the Sun recorded Hewitt appearing to ask a restaurant to provide her with a receipt for £3,150 in relation to a lunch attended by a number of senior Ukip figures, which had in fact only cost £950.
The newspaper said this would have allowed Atkinson’s office to claim the higher total on expenses from a group funded by the European parliament to boost Ukip’s finances. The Sun said it had passed on details of the incident to Kent police.
At the time, Ukip said it was “incredibly disappointed with Ms Atkinson, who appears to have exercised extremely poor judgment in acting in a way that the party has never, and would never condone”.
“The party has acted swiftly and immediately, and just as we showed when we suspended another MEP for financial irregularities, we always maintain a zero tolerance attitude towards acts of this nature.”
Farage said on Sunday that the video footage made it “perfectly clear that something very bad happened” but a link between the conduct of Hewitt and Atkinson needed to be established.
The incident is particularly damaging for Ukip as Atkinson’s prospective parliamentary seat was very near to Farage’s in Kent, meaning it would get prominent local media coverage.
A Ukip spokesman said: “Janice Atkinson MEP and Christine Hewitt (assistant to Janice Atkinson) have been found to have brought the party into disrepute.
“As a result they have been expelled from UK Independence party. They have 14 days to appeal.”
Atkinson had previously been criticised and forced to apologise for referring to a Thai constituent as a “ting-tong”. She was not disciplined on that occasion but Farage said it was a mistake and apologised to the woman, Fa Munday, in person.
Atkinson said she intended to appeal against the decision.
“I am deeply disappointed by today’s decision and fully intend to appeal,” she said in a statement.
“I was elected to represent the constituents of the south-east of England and I will continue to work tirelessly on their behalf and for the best interests of our country.”
The footage is being reviewed by Kent and Essex serious crime directorate.
This article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 24th March 2015 00.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010