A TOWN HALL investigation was sparked after complaints that an election candidate broke the law by offering potential voters a free lunch.

Suleman Khonat, who is standing for the Party in Shear Brow ward, Blackburn, was reported to Blackburn with Darwen council by Liberal Democrat group leader David Foster.

Coun Foster claimed two leaflets publicising "special meetings" for the Shear Brow ward broke election rules because they included the offer of food afterwards.

One leaflets referred to food being served and the other said: "lunch will be served thereafter."

Mr Khonat was summoned to Blackburn town hall yesterday to explain himself to the council's deputy returning officer, Linda Comstive.

Council bosses say he was given "guidance", but would not confirm if he had breached the rules.

Under national electoral rules activists are banned from serving anything more than light refreshments, such as tea and biscuits, at meetings.

The law was introduced in the 19th Century when candidates would ply people with food and drink to get their votes.

Last year East Lancashire peer Lord Greaves claimed "treating" was becoming more widespread, particularly in Asian areas, and warned campaigners that they could face jail if they breached the rules.

The council's chief executive and returning officer Graham Burgess would not confirm whether Mr Khonat, who is bidding to replace outgoing Labour councillor Hussain Akhtar, had breached the rules.

He said: "The matter has been reported to us. There has been a meeting between the deputy returning officer and the candidate, and guidance has been issued."

Blackburn MP Jack Straw was a guest speaker at one of the meetings, held at the Apostolic Church on Randal Street.

Coun Foster called for an apology from the Labour Party and said: "If they are providing refreshments at a public meeting at election time they are breaking the law."

Speaking after the meeting with the deputy returningofficer, Mr Khonat insisted that the invitation had only been open to Labour Party members and supporters.

Labour leader Kate Hollern, who sat in on the meeting, admitted the wording on the flyer "could have been better".

But she added: "It's something of nothing.

"They are saying we can't offer party workers a cup of tea and a snack."