THE Liberal Democrats have been fined £20,000 and reported to police after they failed to properly declare 307 payments worth £186,676 during last year’s General Election.

So staggering were the “systematic failures” of the party’s campaigns officer, Tim Gordon, that the election watchdogs believe he may have knowingly made a “false declaration” and Scotland Yard have been called in to investigate.

The £20,000 fine is the most a party can be charged for failing to meet the legal requirements of an election. Bob Posner, from the Electoral Commission, said it was time the law changed to make parties pay more.

“Our investigation uncovered systemic failures in ensuring that the rules were being followed,” Posner said. “The party and its officers co-operated fully throughout the investigation. However, this is an experienced party that failed to meet the basic requirements of the law, and cases like this undermine voters’ confidence in our political finance system. This is why we have applied the highest financial penalty available to us.

“This also highlights why we have been calling on the UK Government to make higher sanctioning powers available. With millions of pounds being spent by large parties looking to form national governments, a fine of £20,000 is no longer a strong enough deterrent to ensure the rules are properly followed.”

Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, a political party’s registered treasurer or registered campaigns officer must submit a “full and complete campaign spending return” to the Electoral Commission.

The missing money was noticed when the commission randomly checked a sample of candidate returns and noticed a discrepancy between what the national party said they had spent and what the local parties said they had spent.

Gordon, when he submitted the original return signed a declaration saying he had examined the spending sent to the Commission and that “to the best of his knowledge and belief, the return was complete and correct as required by law”. The Electoral Commission say that their investigation uncovered people within the party who were aware the return was not complete and correct.

The party has until December 12 to pay the fine.

Last May’s election was brutal for the LibDems, as voters punished the Tory coalition partners. They lost 49 of their 57 MPs, returning just eight, including Alistair Carmichael in Orkney and Shetland, who himself was embroiled in legal action.

Scotland Yard confirmed that officers were investigating.

A spokesman said: “The special inquiry team are currently assessing an allegation referred to the Met by the Electoral Commission.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “We always endeavour to ensure our reports of national campaign expenses are completed in full, in good time and according to all applicable rules. These mistakes, caused by issues with a small number of local accounting units, were a result of human error and failures of process. We are taking steps to ensure these mistakes are not repeated in future.”