Political activist is acquitted over mannequin election charge

Helena Torry: Mannequin entered as independent candidate.
Helena Torry: Renee Slater was acquitted.Renee Slater

A pensioner has been cleared of registering a dummy to stand in a local government election due to a Crown blunder.

Renee-Margaret Slater went on trial accused of entering a mannequin as a candidate in last year's city council election in Aberdeen.

The 64-year-old lodged the name of Helena Torry on an official nomination document and delivered the paperwork to the returning officer at the city town house.

The former Labour councillor went on trial facing a charge under the Representation of People Act 1983 earlier this week.

But on Thursday the pensioner was cleared of the offence because the sheriff ruled that the charge was not relevant to the case.

Defence lawyer Gregor Kelly argued that the charge against his client related to parliamentary elections and local government elections in England and Wales.

Sheriff Peter Hammond upheld the submission that his client had no case to answer.

Following the hearing, delighted Slater said: "I just want to thank the people who helped out, the friends of Helena Torry who raised the funds for it. I couldn't get legal aid.

"She ended up with a personality, and certainly has more charisma than some politicians. It has been really stressful. It has been worrying but it has been very interesting.

"I think we will have a party, I'm not sure if she will eat or drink anything though. I'm actually looking forward to a gin and tonic."

The dummy, Helena Torry, was rolled out on a wheeled stand into the court room during the trial.

Spectators sitting in the public gallery chuckled as the smiling mannequin was positioned as a production next to the witness box.

The mannequin was taken into custody on April 19 after Slater was taken to the police headquarters for questioning.

Police were called in after nomination paperwork was handed in to returning officer Crawford Langley in March.

The document was handed in an hour before the 4pm deadline on March 29.

The court heard one of two documents handed to the returning officer named Renee Slater as the candidate's agent.

Paperwork stated that Helena Torry was being nominated to stand in the Hazlehead and Queens Cross ward.

Grampian Police constable Robert Chrystal said Slater told officers that the dummy had not been registered out of malice.

The court heard officers were told: "It was never done for any malice. It was meant to be a bit of humour and fun during a very austere election process."

Defence lawyer Gregor Kelly said: "My client is eternally grateful that this harrowing ordeal is now at an end and is pleased to have been vindicated by the court."

Wrong Charge

Senior Depute Returning Officer Crawford Langley said he was disappointed with the verdict after the case was thrown out on a technicality.

He said: "I am obviously disappointed that the case against Renee Slater was dismissed by the court on the grounds that there was no case to answer.

"It is important to understand that this decision was based on a strict legal technicality in the way that the charge was framed and that the court did not consider the facts of the case or give a ruling on legality of nominating a non-human candidate.

"As I understand it, the prosecuting authorities chose to bring the charge under section 65A of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which is the provision which applies to general elections in Scotland and local government elections in England.

"The equivalent offence in a Scottish local government election is section 65B. Since section 65A does not create an offence at a Scottish local government election, there was no case to answer.

"The decision to prosecute and, if so, on what charge, is entirely a matter for the Procurator Fiscal and the person making the complaint has no control over it, nor even formal knowledge of the charge.

"Since the decision was on this narrow technicality, it has not changed or clarified my understanding of the legal position in relation to the nomination process. If faced with the same situation again, I will have no hesitation in referring the matter to the police."

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