Westminster cat-of-the-year contest 'hit by vote-rigging'
Two contenders for a Westminster cat-of-the-year competition have withdrawn after allegations of vote-rigging.
Bosun, belonging to Cornish Tory MP Sheryll Murray, garnered 30,000 votes in seven hours, raising suspicions.
Ms Murray, who denies any wrongdoing, removed the animal from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home's Purr Minister contest, calling the episode "upsetting".
Greater Manchester Labour MP Andrew Gwynne followed suit, withdrawing his rescue kitten Jude from the fray.
The competition, the winner of which is crowned Purr Minister for the year, is intended to raise awareness of the plight of abandoned pets.
Seven cats, belonging to MPs and peers, remain in the running.
After withdrawing Bosun, who is black with green eyes, Mrs Murray, MP for South East Cornwall, said: "This whole situation has been very upsetting. I entered Bosun as a bit of fun to promote the good work of Battersea Dogs and Cats home.
"Bosun is a much-loved family pet, who is now 14 years old. He was named by my late husband, who was a fisherman - hence the name. One of my staff, out of working hours, set up a website, did some social media and even produced a few leaflets.
"I entered Bosun before the recent storms but unfortunately Labour have decided to make this political and I have decided to withdraw him as I have to concentrate on the many storm-affected areas in my constituency."
Bosun apparently received a surge of overnight votes from Australia.
His campaign staff said that "at no point" had an "automated algorithm" been used to pick up online support.
In a statement, they said: "Battersea Dogs and Cats home have already said that there have been a lot of voting irregularities with many candidates and we do not know if this instance was by a well-meaning supporter of Bosun's or someone who was trying to frame him. It does seem to have been a bit obvious."
Mr Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish, told BBC Two's Daily Politics programme that his tabby kitten Jude had been fished out of a canal in Manchester, giving him the "ideal back story" to win the contest.
He added: "Sadly, while all the other cats were catnapping, one cat in particular seemed to snap up 30,000 votes overnight and then tried to claim that his victory was because of a sudden surge in Australian votes. Clearly, that was a purr-fect alibi."
Voting for the first Purr Minister ends at midday on Thursday.