Cllr Peter Golds is Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamnlets Council. This is the second of two pieces in the subject – the first one is here.
The police must hate handling any enquiry that deals with politicians. If the media get scared off handling corruption, then for the police it must be worse.
Looking back at the infamous expenses scandal several newspapers refused to touch the story until the Telegraph started their investigations.
For the police to have to say that a politician, even a councillor is corrupt is difficult. Over the past dozen years there has been a notable decrease in confidence in the electoral process. Firstly, it was compromised by Labour introducing postal voting on demand. Now as special election courts have shown, the system, that is little unchanged from 1872, is simply not fit for purpose.
Following the 2001 election in Bethnal Green and Bow, George Galloway used his victory speech to personally attack the returning officer for the conduct of the election. In successive rounds of election in this borough the situation has got far worse, at least in the eyes of voter’s, campaigners and some persistent and able journalists. For the police, ultimately the guardians of our electoral process, it appears to be just “perception”. I have files full of detailed investigations that I and others have undertaken and a folder of unanswered letters sent to the police. Sadly, as I have discovered, I am not the only one with a similar story. Colleagues across the country say the same.
The detailed judgements of Richard Mawrey QC, when acting as an Election Commissioner in Birmingham, Slough and Woking and his erudite explanation of election law show just how our system has slipped. I have looked at all his key indicators of election fraud; everyone is easily identified in Tower Hamlets. Specific cases have been sent to the police to no avail, until in 2012 an investigation was undertaken which, as you will see, was so poor as to prove an embarrassment.
Exactly two years ago a group of brilliant researchers identified a number of addresses in this borough where we established were a number of dubious registrations. A substantial dossier was presented to the Electoral Registration Officer and 200 names were removed from the register across the borough.
One case is of particular interest. I had learned that a woman by the name of Kelly Bibi was registered as a voter in this borough, although she lived with her husband and family in Newham. Some research was undertaken and this proved correct. Ms Bibi was one of the 200 names removed from the register.
The address in Tower Hamlets that she was removed from, a four bedroom house in Old Montague Street, E1 was purchased under right to buy in 1998 by her brother and father. It is, however, the same property where Lutfur Rahman, Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, another of her brothers, lives and is registered to vote. Indeed, it was recently seen on television, when his taxpayer funded driver parked on a yellow line to deliver his dry cleaning.
This indicates the scale of the problem that we faced. It would take a very determined officer to investigate that claim.
In February 2012, Shelina Akhtar, the Rahman supporting councillor for the Spitlafields and Banglatown ward was imprisoned for benefit fraud. Her seat was declared vacant and a by election fixed for April 19th before the London Mayoral election. The “Independent” candidate for the ward was Lutfur Rahman’s agent in 2010, Gulum Robbani. The Rahman administration were determined to ensure that Robbani won this election.
It should be noted that Shelina Akhtar, had illegally claimed benefit in respect of a brand new property, owned by Swan Housing, which she had illegally sublet, but had been allocated to her.
Even in 2010 Shelina Akhtar had form on electoral malpractice. Note that somehow, she a single woman of 30 had been allocated a brand new property on the Poplar riverside, as had her sister, in an equally new development in Limehouse Both are single, unmarried and childless, one can only assume that living with their mother in Spitalfields was very, very crowded.
Here is a paragraph from an unanswered letter that I wrote to the Borough Commander on January 25th:
- 37 Toynbee Street is the home of Cllr Aktar’s mother. In 2010 there was a single name on the electoral register, Minara Begum, her mother. In April 2010 Shelina Akhtar’s name appeared on the electoral register for this addresst, along with Hazira Akhtar (her sister), Abu Hanif, and Md. Abu Salam. Just before election day in 2010 the name of Kasru Miah was added to the electoral register, indicating six adults were then officially living at this address.
The address, 37 Toynbee Street, was used as her home address on her nomination papers.
Here are the electoral rules as (repeatedly) explained by Judge Mawrey:
- The Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regs 2001 SI 2001/341, as amended (‘the 2001 Regs’), Reg. 26, requires a person applying for registration as an elector to state in his application ( inter alia) the address in respect of which he applies to be registered and ‘at which he is resident on the date of the application’ and to sign a declaration that the particulars are true.
- Thus in order for an elector lawfully to vote at a local election for a particular local authority ward, he must meet the eligibility criteria and have a ‘residence’ within the boundaries of the Ward. A temporary visitor cannot lawfully register and vote. Similarly someone who, in the words of s.5 has ‘a home elsewhere’ cannot put himself on the register of a ward for the purposes of an election without residing in that ward. Relatives from abroad who are over in England for a short holiday cannot lawfully register and vote.
As I said, the police did not even acknowledge my letter of January 2012. The byelection campaign campaign following the expulsion of Shelina Akhtar was unpleasant, threatening and eventually decided by just 43 votes in a turnout of 31 per cent. During the campaign numerous examples of electoral malpractice appeared. This included voters being added to the register at a late stage and a rise in the number of postal voters.
Late in the campaign a councillor, part of the Rahman supporting group, was photographed in a particular block with what appeared to be postal votes.
This block, Brune House, became a particular focus and it was visited by party activists and numerous journalists, including a team from Newsnight.
During the by election campaign postal votes in Brune House rose from seventeen to 68, a total of 23.8 per cent of the 231 electors in the block. In one flat a resident told canvassers and the media that there were just three residents, and one of these was in Bangladesh. However there were eight names on the register for this flat and sure enough, eight postal votes were cast. At close of poll on election day, 53 out of 68 postal votes were returned from Brune House, a turnout of 78 per cent of the postal votes, compared to the average ward return of 67 per cent.
Two weeks later, in the high profile, Johnson versus Livingstone London wide election, just 25 postal votes were returned from Brune House, a drop of more than 50 per cent in two weeks. The only person who did not think this was unusual was the police investigator.
Another address also caught my attention. This is a block of 18 private flats with 44 voters in Brick Lane. Many of the flats are rented out, in some no voters are registered in others there is evidence of a flat share, the block is within easy walking distance of the City of London. There is a communal letter box in the hallway. Landlords who rent out and estate agents who manage flats will know who lives in what flat and who they are. Shortly before the byelection a number of Bangladeshi names were added to the register for different flats and most appeared on the postal vote list. Yet nobody was removed. In one flat, five Bangladeshi names were added, joining a long registered person whose first name was Malcolm. Looking at this property, it must have been very crowded with six adults in a small flat.
A total of 16 postal votes were registered from this from this block, of which 12 were cast in the byelection. Two weeks later just two postal votes were cast, although four electors voted in person as opposed to none in the by election.
Within a few weeks a number of the added Bangladeshi names were removed from the electoral register from this very block.
After the campaign, there was also publicity about a postal vote cast by an elector, Mr Manik, who had died in Bangladesh.
During the by election this address was canvassed by political parties. Canvassers were told that Mr Manik was in Bangladesh, seriously ill and could not vote. There was surprise when a completed postal vote was returned on his behalf.
Applications to vote by post closed on Monday April 2nd it would have been Wednesday April 3rd could have reached his address. This would then have been completed and returned and Mr Manik, whilst seriously ill, would have had sixteen days to fly several thousand miles to Bangladesh where he died on April 19th son has a death certificate issued on Bangladesh, which he has shown to journalists, and this certificate is dated April 19th
His daughter, Jona, told a journalist that Mr Manik was dead and had died in Bangladesh, “where he had lived for several years”.
Tower Hamlets Electoral Services were told on the telephone that Mr Manik had voted and gone home and died.
A second journalist was told by Kasham Abdul, the son of Mr Manik, who said that his father had been living in Sylhet in Bangladesh for at least a year prior to his death. He said he barely returned to the UK and certainly was not in the UK at all in 2012, prior to the April by-election.
If this is correct (and it seems unlikely that his own son would be mistaken), Mr Manik was living abroad during the period when the postal votes were sent out, completed and returned. The conversation with the son was recorded by the journalist.
This is, most people would feel, all very suspicious.
One may ask;
- What do UK travel records show for Mr Manik during the period between Monday April 2nd
- If Mr Manik were in the country during that time, of course it is possible he may have filled in his postal voting form himself.
- If he were not in the country between these two dates how could he possibly have filled in the form legally?
- The continued discrepancies in Mr Manik’s family’s accounts over time, suggest that there has been no thorough investigation. Certainly the UKBA would have had records when this matter was first raised publicly within days of the by election.
Yet the police still insist nothing is amiss, despite not speaking to either journalist and therefore listening to the tape recording of the son.
In the weeks leading up to the Johnson/Livingstone election on May 3rd there were numerous stories, sometimes raised by political activists, in other cases by local residents about the electoral process in the borough.
Two days before the election I received a call from a police officer who had been designated to investigate the allegations in the borough. He suggested meeting on Thursday, election day, which I pointed out would be difficult and he agreed to call me to arrange a meeting. I waited for his call, and waited and waited and then I found his number, called him and we met in July, three months after the election.
The juxtaposition of the Spitalfields by election on April 19 and the GLA election two weeks later enabled some fascinating research to be undertaken and there is substantial information gleaned from just a few addresses in the ward which caused real concern. The delay in meeting the investigating officer enabled me to pull this detailed information together and below is some of the background information that I assembled.
In the April 19th high turnout for the ward; as in May 2010, during the combined general/council elections turnout was just 56 per cent in this ward, whilst the overall borough average was 60 per cent, a reduction of 4 per cent in this one ward.
In December 2010 there was a by election in the Spitalfields ward, following the election of Lutfur Rahman as Mayor and the turnout was just 17 per cent.
For the April 19th 2012 ward by election, 956 postal votes were returned from 1,418 issued – a rate of return of 67 per cent, however 135 (14.12 per cent of the total) were rejected prior to the count and were therefore not entered in the count or included in the overall turnout of 2,312 votes, which was, as noted, 31 per cent of the electorate.
The reasons for rejection were:
No date of birth; 1
No signature and no date of birth; 5
Signature did not match registered signature; 72
Date of birth did not match registered date of birth; 30
Date of birth and signature did not match; 17
No ballot paper returned; 7
No PVS returned; 3
In 119 cases the signatures and or date of birth did not match. This in itself is unusual, but coupled with evidence that votes were being collected from voters it becomes alarming.
Two weeks later for the May 3 GLA election the Spitalfields postal vote return was down to 695 but 1,696 electors voted in person, making an increased poll of 2,476. It is interesting that personal voters increased in two weeks but postal voters decreased. We do not know how many postal votes from Spitalfields were excluded from the GLA count.
We know the borough wide postal vote return in May was 16,085 which is a 63.31 per cent return (lower than the by-election return) and 1,232 of these returns were rejected before the count, 7.66 per cent of the total. It is significant that the rejection was almost half of that in a single ward. One may ask why rejection was so high in Spitalfields, just two weeks previously.
So although overall turnout increased in the ward, the postal vote return was down by 261. I prepared a table for postal votes issued and returned, using the official records provided by the Returning Officer and marked those returned in different colours for each election. Many of those who returned postal votes on April 19th same address and were overwhelmingly Bangladeshi.
The meeting with the investigator was extraordinary. He repeatedly yawned, had little grasp electoral registration, and at one point asked me was I biased against Bangladeshis, because of the returned postal vote data. I had to say that I was biased against electoral fraud.
I never saw or head from him again. I know that he made no attempt to speak to, let interview any of the journalists who had potentially vital information, nor, as far as I can tell did he speak to concerned residents. As will be seen he had a number of conversations and meetings with electoral services in the borough
During 2012 I learned that the Electoral Commission had commissioned a report into the electoral process in the borough and I wrote a detailed letter to
However my concern arose in March 2013, when a well known journalist from a national newspaper rang the Electoral Commission to know when the report would be published. Within minutes he received an email, not from the Electoral Commission but from the Head of Communications at Tower Hamlets, Takki Sulaiman (Private Eye, passim) asking exactly what he wanted to know and offering a council briefing. I began to have concerns that the Electoral Commission appeared to be acting as the trade association for Tower Hamlets electoral services, rather than the watchdog of the electorate.
The report, Allegations of Electoral Fraud in Tower Hamlets in 2012, was published in March 2013. Whilst expressing concern at the situation in the borough, it based its conclusions on the investigation by the officer that I had met. The same officer who took over three months to meet me, never interviewed any of the journalists who had information or to the best of my knowledge electors who had complained. He indicated that he had identified three cases of fraud. Other matters were dismissed out of hand. Lutfur Rahman then published the following statement:
“It’s official: Tower Hamlets has NO CASE TO ANSWER on electoral fraud”.
This was not correct and on reading the report there are very obvious concerns expressed.
The report was considered by the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Following the exclusion of press and public elected members were permitted to see some of the police evidence and identify addresses against case numbers. This immediately demonstrated how weak the investigation was and showed that there was little understanding of the process, and little work undertaken.
In some incidents the investigation appeared to rely on the local authority electoral services for information which was treated as fact.
With regard to the much publicised address in Brune House. The report states:
“Alleges only two people reside at property where eight people are registered. This allegation was highlighted in both the broadcast and written media and made on more than one occasion. Council staff visited property shortly before the election and were told that all eight still reside.
Police visited the property with an interpreter and also concluded that eight people resided there. Although all were registered to vote by post, records show that no vote was cast in the name of any of these electors in either the by-election or local elections. No offence”.
In fact canvassers and the press were told there are just three residents and one, the father, was in Bangladesh. The official postal vote return shows that eight postal votes were returned in the by election. So what records were used? What is the real situation?
The very detailed analysis I had provided to the police and the Electoral Commission of the block of flats in Brick Lane, referred to above was simply ignored.
No account was given to the extraordinary mixture of names at individual flats, the numbers of potential voters from individual addresses on the register, the prevalence of postal voters on April 19th some came off the register so quickly.
The Brick Lane flats that I identified, is a text book example of “phantom voters” identified by Judge Mawrey in Woking, Slough and Birmingham. Yet this was ignored by Tower Hamlets, the Electoral Commission and the flawed Police investigation of 2012, where at each address the statement was “no case to answer”, based I understand entirely on conversations with a council officer.
The situation regarding the late Mr Manik is even worse, here is what is in the report exactly as printed;
“Alleges elector had died abroad during by-election yet had voted by post. The local authority checked with the family and found that the elector had gone abroad after having cast his postal vote and died whilst overseas. The vote is considered to be properly cast. No offence.”
As stated above, the family have told very different versions of this to different people, and yet the investigation dismisses information based on a conversation with the town hall, who themselves had telephoned the address.
The main thrust of the report appears to be a wish to shut down press comment of voter fraud.
We are now just three months away from another election. Suddenly the police and the Electoral Commission have produced a local protocol for candidates. Sadly, the local protocol encourages campaigners to avoid the press, leaving everything to the police and the local authority.
However, with regard to Tower Hamlets, I can but quote Judge Mawrey’s observations after his Woking judgement, that the Electoral Commission has a “degree of optimism that Dr Pangloss would admire”.
I am afraid that this Panglossian optimism was all over the 2013 report, and that it has done nothing to alleviate the concerns of those who wish to vote freely, fairly and unhindered in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
Let me conclude with a final example of how lax electoral rules are here, which almost has an amusing side to it. I have previously referred to the council officer that was removed from the Virginia Polling Station for checking that voters had “done it correctly”. On the same day, in 2008, there was a council by election for Weavers Ward and this was one of the polling stations. As Boris Johnson was trouncing Ken Livingstone and Labour were losing hundreds of council seats countrywide,
Labour gained Weavers Ward from the Liberal Democrats. The winning Labour candidate was Fazlul Haque who gave his home address, which appeared on the ballot paper in the by election, as 291 Hanbury Street, London, E1 5JY.
It very quickly became known that 291 Hanbury Street was rented out to two Chinese students.
He owns this property in Tower Hamlets along with another property at 10 Frostic Walk, E1. This property ownership qualifies him, under the law, to stand for election in Tower Hamlets. However, Labour Party rules state that a candidate must live and be registered within the authority they are seeking election.
Very soon the traditional Tower Hamlets brown envelopes started circulating and informing recipients that Fazlul Haque actually lives with his family, at 105 Grosvenor Road, Ilford. Early one morning I set out for Ilford by train and soon identified Cllr Haque’s Mercedes car in Grosvenor Road. I was there to wish him a cheery good morning as he left for work.
This became a standing joke in council. The police and electoral officials were notified that he had committed a corrupt practice by using a false home address on his nomination paper. Predictably, nothing was done. He illegally remained on the electoral register at 291 Hanbury Street and although he was denied re nomination by the Labour Party for the 2010 elections he stood and was defeated as a Respect candidate; whilst commuting back to his home in Ilford and again using an illegal home address on his nomination papers.
This information was provided to the police by way of a letter, which again was unanswered.
The political views of Respect are from the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party and it is surely beyond parody that these people would welcome a Mercedes driving owner of several rented properties in a deprived area as a member.
In recent years I have had numerous conversations and indeed meetings with colleagues in other parts of the country. Their stories are sadly similar. Many of them have trusted the police and the authorities to actually do something, only to discover that little or nothing, despite the weight of evidence, happens.
I have been lucky that at least the free media retains an interest in Tower Hamlets, which enables continuous exposure of this scandalous threat to our democracy.
Be aware; the longer this continues then the more corrupt people will exploit the system.