A former East Lancashire Conservative candidate has been found guilty of electoral fraud, after the jury deliberated for more than three and a half hours.

Mohammed Navid Afzal, 41, stood for the Tories in the Netherton ward in Hyndburn in 2022, and pleaded not guilty to two charges of electoral fraud against him.

Afzal, of Whalley Road, Accrington, was arrested and charged in September 2022 with two counts of corrupt practice, relating to two signatures on his nomination papers being invalid.

His trial began at Preston Crown Court on Monday (April 29), and yesterday, Friday May 3, a jury found Afzal guilty on count one, and not guilty on count two.

Count one concerned the signature of Asad Mirdad, a man Afzal had known since their college days, but fell out of touch.

Mr Mirdad said they had not seen each other for around 20 years before they bumped into each other at the mosque in Great Harwood.

He told the court he is not involved in politics, but was a trustee at the mosque and did a lot of community work.

He said he was asked by Afzal to help with his campaign by going door-to-door but he refused as he had applied to join the police at the time.

He did say he showed Afzal a list of mosque attendees he could approach to ask about supporting the campaign, but did not go further than this.

Count two, of which Afzal was found not guilty, concerned Noreen Hussain, who gave evidence to the court via an interpreter.

She said she did not know Afzal or anything about the 2022 elections, and did not have an interest in politics then or now.

Ms Hussain was shown a copy of a nomination paper by the court which showed a signature of ‘N. Hussain’ and the name Noreen written close by.

She said it was a similar signature to her own, but did not remember signing this form, nor was she asked to help with Afzal’s nomination.

Ms Hussain also said she could not read English and could not read or understand any of the words on the form.

When summing the case up, Afzal's defence barrister Tobias Collins told the jury that if they were unsure about who signed the nomination papers, they must return a not guilty verdict.

He said: "I will not lecture you about what 'being sure' means. But the question you should be asking yourself is, are you sure Mr Afzal knew these signatures were false?

"I do not believe the crown's evidence has reached that threshold. Mr Afzal confidently told you, the jury, in court, which signatures he took, and which he didn't take.

"He gave the papers to his trusted friend, who he had no reason to doubt."

Judge Andrew Jefferies KC told the court that it is not a legal requirement for a candidate to view supporters physically signing the papers, but it is their duty to ensure these are valid and correct.

Afzal will be sentenced at Burnley Crown or Magistrates Court on June 21 by Judge Andrew Jefferies KC.

He ordered a pre-sentence report for Afzal as he is of previous good character.

Judge Jefferies said: "I take it very seriously that you have committed this kind of offence, and prison is a large deterrence to the wider public in these types of crimes.

"If you interfere with the political process in this country unlawfully, you should go to prison. This will be on the front of my mind when sentencing you.

"You will live and sleep every night at your address on Whalley Road until your sentence date."