The Information Commissioner’s Office has fined Vote Leave Limited £40,000 for sending out thousands of unsolicited text messages during the 2016 EU referendum. Following an investigation by the ICO, discovered that the Vote Leave campaign sent 196,154 text messages promoting the Leave Campaign. The text messages contained a link to its website.

The ICO found that the Leave campaign claimed they had received people’s details legitimately, but had actually deleted the evidence of consent after the referendum. They also deleted details of the phone numbers the messages were sent from, the number of messages sent, and the number of messages received.

Steve Eckersley, ICO director of investigations said: “Spam texts are a real nuisance for millions of people and we will take action against organisations who disregard the law. Direct marketing is not just about selling products and services, it’s also about promoting an organisation’s aims and ideals. Political campaigns and parties, like any other organisation, have to comply with the law.”

Vote Leave claimed the information it had used to contact people was obtained from enquiries which had come through their website, from individuals who had responded via text to promotional leaflets, and from entrants to a football competition.

However, the organisation said that following the conclusion of the referendum campaign it had deleted evidence of the consent relied upon to send the messages. Also deleted, were details of the phone numbers the messages were sent from, the volume of messages sent, and the volume of messages received.

After the referendum, the group claimed it had deleted evidence of the consent relied upon to send the messages, the ICO said. But a Vote Leave spokesman said this was done with the agreement of the ICO.

“So their decision to prosecute us now feels particularly vindictive. Both during and after the referendum, Vote Leave complied with both the letter and spirit of the law. We have exchanged 46 letters with the ICO since the referendum, most of them refuting conspiracy theories peddled by people unhappy with the referendum result. To be fined £40,000 for fewer than 20 complaints which they were aware of over two years ago, shows their desperation to pin something on us after we had rebutted all of their other ludicrous theories.”

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