BBC News: Election 2010 BBC News

Page last updated at 18:09 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 19:09 UK

Police told of Labour candidate's tweet on votes

Kerry McCarthy
Kerry McCarthy was appointed Twitter 'tsar' to boost online use

Labour's new media 'tsar' has been reported to the police for an alleged breach of electoral rules after tweeting about postal votes.

Bristol East Labour candidate Kerry McCarthy was reported to police by Bristol City Council.

The alleged breach is over failure to keep postal votes secret. Avon and Somerset Police are investigating.

Ms McCarthy has apologised to the returning officer for the twitter post which has since been deleted.

An Avon and Somerset Police spokesman confirmed the council had contacted the police this evening about a possible alleged breach of electoral law.

"The matter is being looked into," he said.

Ms McCarthy, given the job of improving the party's use of social media sites last year, sent a Twitter message giving details of postal votes that had been opened.

After deleting it, she tweeted: "On second thoughts, not counting, just random exercise" and "my mistake - hands up".

It is illegal to reveal the votes cast before the end of polling day as this may influence the outcome of the election.

It was a thoughtless thing to do, and I very quickly realised that it was not appropriate to put such information in the public domain
Kerry McCarthy
Labour candidate for Bristol East

The alleged breach relates to the "Requirement of Secrecy" in electoral law, particularly relating to postal votes and keeping the number of votes for candidates a secret.

In her role improving use of social media ahead of the general election she has had to train MPs and candidates in the best use of the internet.

The council said: "This is a criminal matter and will be for the police to decide what action to take."

Ms McCarthy later said she had apologised to the returning officer.

"On hearing the results of a random and unscientific sample of postal votes, I posted them on Twitter.

"It was a thoughtless thing to do, and I very quickly realised that it was not appropriate to put such information in the public domain.

"Because this was not official information, and no votes had been counted, I thought of it as being akin to canvass returns, i.e telling people how well we were doing with Labour promises on the doorstep, but I appreciate now it was wrong to do so."

She said it would be unlawful for anyone to re-post her original Twitter comment.

The Electoral Commission says the first stage towards counting postal votes is a security check, which can happen before the election takes place, where the votes are opened but not sorted into piles and counted.

The spokesman did not think that early stage had happened in Bristol East.

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