Cllr Peter Golds is Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council.
“In Tower Hamlets last May, we witnessed the most corrupt election held in Britain since 1872. Hundreds of votes were purloined by crooks applying for postal votes and getting them redirected to an address sometimes just doors away from the registered address of the voter. Whole blocks of flats woke up to discover that every one of their residents had applied for a postal vote to be redirected to another address without their knowledge. Some 2,800 postal vote applications were delivered to the town hall in Tower Hamlets in the last hours of the last day, and many were brought in by sitting councillors.” George Galloway MP, House of Commons, 26th February, 2007
Sadly, nothing in Tower Hamlets has changed in the past eight years since the day that George Galloway quoted Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey on election fraud.
I was a witness in the recent Tower Hamlets election petition, and have therefore previously avoided comment during the long and drawn out hearing – which was, without doubt a landmark case, as can be found in the 200 page judgement. It is, of course, just the tip of a judicial iceberg – since there were thousands of pages of evidence and 29 days of oral witnesses.
That Tower Hamlets over the past five years was a Rotten Borough is now proven. The hard work to establish this has been undertaken by small groups of dedicated people, residents, political activists, and doughty journalists – all with little or no help and a great deal of hindrance from those who should be protecting the integrity of the electoral process, as was revealed so graphically in court.
However, for those who believe in free and fair elections the four petitioners deserve an enormous vote of thanks. This case went on for months. Lutfur Rahman was supported by city solicitors, who had several staff in court at all times. Counsel was Duncan Penny QC, assisted by a junior barrister.
The petitioners worked with a brilliant young barrister, Francis Hoare, a volunteer solicitor and their supporters. They were frequently vilified and often threatened by various of Rahman’s supporters. Yet they stood their ground.
At one point, there were as many as six police officers escorting Lutfur Rahman into court. They were sent from Paddington and could have been usefully engaged there. Yet when one of the petitioner’s witnesses was threatened in the court’s cafeteria by a Tower Hamlets First councillor, nothing was done. During the case, witnesses for Rahman were being briefed outside Court 38 by various of the Rahman councillors. On occasions, paid officers of Tower Hamlets Council were seen briefing and accompanying witnesses to the court.
On one occasion a witness was granted anonymity. In such cases, the accredited press remain, to ensure the integrity of the process. Members of the public and all but the key players left the court. Later it became known that a Tower Hamlets Council media officer, certainly not an accredited journalist, had stayed in court and was present when the witness was sworn in by name.
The judgement has been published on this site and the result is known. Rahman and his agent, Alibor Choudhary, were found guilty of seven corrupt and illegal practices, both of their elections were voided and both are banned for standing for a period of five years.
What became apparent is that the election held in Tower Hamlets 2014 was very different from that which was reported by the Metropolitan Police and the Electoral Commission. How has this come to pass and what actually happened?
Tower Hamlets First
This so-called political party was and is a vanity project to promote Rahman. Despite being its leader and supposedly its nominating officer, he had no idea as to whether it had a constitution or even a bank account. When questioned on oath, everything was referred to Choudhury. Suddenly, a constitution was produced in court – but it was Choudhury who in evidence confirmed that the party operated with a “virtual bank account.”
Consider that again: a “virtual bank account,” for electoral purposes. In evidence, the court heard that election bills would be collected and handed over to supporters for final settlement!
Then, over a weekend during the hearing, a £35,000 donation in lieu of a promotional event was suddenly recorded with the Electoral Commission.
In April last year, I wrote to the Met Commissioner pointing out that tens of thousands of glossy, multi- coloured leaflets were circulating in the borough. The address of the printer on the leaflets was the home of AChoudhury’s mother. I pointed out that it was unlikely that she had a multi-coloured, mainframe printer in the lounge, with the capacity to print tens of thousands of leaflets
So where, and by whom, were the leaflets actually printed? I pointed out the scope that this arrangement gave to a) money laundering and b) to facilitating a corrupt return of election expenses. By this time, it was estimated that some 80,000 copies of one A3 leaflet alone had been so produced and, examining different leaflets from across the borough, the print runs were estimated to be some 300,000 copies.
The police were satisfied nothing was wrong – despite the Act stating that failure to include the printer on a leaflet is subject to a fine of up to £5,000.
It was also established in Court that the Tower Hamlets First candidate selection process was also “virtual”. Candidates were personally chosen by Rahman from amongst his supporters and activists. These included a school governor, community activist and board member of St Hilda’s East (a local organisation) – one Ahad Miah.
Here is one of his facebook postings, recirculated on his Twitter account. It is said that he is on the more hardline wing of Tower Hamlets First. Needless to say, Rahman was fulsome in praise of this man on election leaflets.
Other Tower Hamlets First candidates included a number of people who resided in areas far from Tower Hamlets, but were keen to serve on this local council. To achieve this, fake addresses were acquired, resulting in incorrect nomination papers and fraudulent votes cast.
During the 2010 local elections, Moniruzzaman Syed contested the Spitalfields and Banglatown ward of Tower Hamlets as a Liberal Democrat candidate. On that occasion, he gave his home address as 100 Hamilton Avenue, Ilford IG6 1AB.
He subsequently joined the Labour Party and was excluded from local membership when he was unable to give proof of an actual address within the borough for purposes of membership – information that was reported in the East London Advertiser. In 2014, he was the Tower Hamlets First candidate for the Bromley North ward, giving as his address, 16 Prioress House, Bromley High Street.
Syed stated on his consent to nomination that he was employed in a lettings agency based at 5 Pennyfields E14. It is understood that this agency manages 16 Prioress House for the actual owners.
It is well known that he actually lives with his family at 25 Ascot Close, Ilford.
The police were notified of all this by me. Eventually, after the election, Syed received a letter from DC Tony Carr stating that there had been an investigation and all was well. Sadly, DC Carr had been unable to include an address on his letter, which was left blank. Amazingly, this letter was produced in court as evidence. Commissioner Mawrey describing DC Carr as “the architect of his own misfortune.”
However, there is more to 16 Prioress House – because just as Syed departed back to Ilford, days after his election defeat, the property became a temporary address for perhaps one of the least credible witnesses to appear in court – at least until Lutfur Rahman called Baroness Uddin as a character witness.
Aktaruz Zaman is a Horsham restaurant owner with a house in Shoreham, who in six weeks fought two elections in two wards (St Peter’s and Blackwall and Cubitt Town) using two fake addresses and two different names. He also received a letter from the police saying that all was well. On this occasion, the police decided to include an address on the letter.
Commissioner Mawrey, at the end of this particular evidence took a very different view, writing: “his was a false registration and his votes for himself and Mr Rahman unlawful.” The same is said in respect of Monir Syed, the other person who used 16 Prioress House as an “address.”
I now turn to the false registration of former councillor Kabir Ahmed, who is registered at a shop, 326a Bethnal Green Road, E2, rather than at his home, which is at 52 Gants Hill Crescent, Ilford. His brother and wife are also registered at the shop address along with an employee, which makes a useful block of votes in a ward where the election was decided by just nine votes.
I wrote an (unanswered) letter to the police regarding this matter in 2010 and again in subsequent elections.
On one occasion in 2010, a reporter called at the door to 236a Bethnal Green Road and was told by an Eastern European woman that Kabir Ahmed did not live there; he merely collected mail addressed to him.
After weighing up the evidence, the Commissioner found with regard to Kabir Ahmed “that this is a false registration and that he cast his votes illegally.”
I would add that he appears to have been illegally voting from this address for at least five years. The police have been repeatedly informed as to this matter, and have undertaken no meaningful investigation.
Then there is the strange case of Cllr Shahid Ali, registered twice in the same ward of Whitechapel, where votes were cast at both addresses. The circumstances remain a mystery. Cllr Ali has been elected to Tower Hamlets in three successive elections – each time under a different party label.
In short, three of the 44 Tower Hamlets First candidates are guilty of false registration (one twice over) and a fourth potentially so. All were named in Court.
Not actually included in the judgement is other evidence, including the witness statement from one Rahman supporter, written from his home address in Barking, which includes the extraordinary information that “for voting purposes he is registered in Tower Hamlets”. This man was not called as a witness by the Rahman team.
Cllr Mohammed Maium Miah of T H First was also questioned about registration. His homes, names and property portfolio are somewhat complex. He is currently registered with his wife in a flat on an estate on the Isle of Dogs. As recently as 2013, his wife was registered at 19 St Anthony’s Road, Forest Gate – the family home at which Cllr Miah appears on the land registry. On oath, he stated that all four of his children attend schools in Forest Gate in the borough of Newham.
In every one of the above cases, apart from Shahid Ali, the police write that they will be taking no further action; and in one case provide a letter without an address!
Another aspect of the case was spiritual influence. In particular, there was reference to a letter from a group of clerics exhorting the faithful to vote for Rahman as their “Islamic duty” This letter appears to have initiated at an event held on 4th May 2014 at the Waterliley, Mile End.
I obtained details of the meeting and wrote to Scotland Yard, including a flyer which stated that Rahman was the only named speaker and confirming the presence of scholars and clerics. The rally took place and Rahman was showcased in his supportive newspapers and TV channels – many of which had been the grateful recipients of council grants. As no other candidate had been invited, this was an election meeting and should have been included in election expenses. It was not and, as usual, the police took no interest.
In the mayoral election of 2010, the Labour candidate opposing Rahman was described in the London Bangla newspaper, edited by a close friend of Rahman, as a “wife beater.” This was untrue, and the editor admitted libel in open court during the petition, more than four years after publication of the offending newspaper, which was, for the first and only time, delivered to almost every door in the borough, days before the election. Unsurprisingly, and despite a huge amount of evidence, the CPS took no action, leaving the maligned candidate to wait four years for redress.
This traducing of an opponent became a dress rehearsal for 2014. Rahman and Choudhury have a long history of attacking personally attacking opponents and often describing them as racist and, in this election, the Labour candidate, John Biggs, was continuously denounced as such. There was no doubt that this had a serious effect within the Bangladeshi community, not least because of the extraordinary coverage given to these allegations within the Bangladeshi media.
Other opponents also suffer similar vituperation. One of the more unusual of the Tower Hamlets First candidates is a man called Madewell (he isn’t) who contested the St Katharine’s and Wapping alongside Miah, the fan of Hitler (see the earlier extract from his Facebook page.
However it was at me that Madewell directed his ire, describing me on a blog as “The Imperial Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (Wapping Chapter)”. My crime was questioning the council spending £128,000 of taxpayers’ money on challenging the Panorama broadcast. Eventually, Madewell accepted a police caution – five months after the election after maximum personal damage had been done to me within the BME community.
The court found that the attacks on Biggs were groundless, and that these were further reasons to void the election. Other councillors were accused of supporting sexual entertainment establishments. This was part of an anonymous leaflet with no imprint but appended and recorded within the return of Rahman election expenses.
The police were notified of this leaflet, a complaint made as to its illegality and that it was distributed by Tower Hamlets First. Nothing further was heard by anybody.
The Commissioner was scathing about the way in which grants had been showered out to supportive groups and individuals by Rahman and his close associates. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report became crucial evidence, but examples were heard in court. One man volunteered that his “community group” did not qualify for a mainstream grant, so was told to apply for a Faith Buildings Grant – which he duly received.
Groups that never applied for grants mysteriously received them, and organisations that officers said were not deserving of funding received often quite substantial sums of money.
The essential unpleasantness of this administration was exemplified by the personal attack on an officer who raised concerns regarding grants and was praised as an exemplary witness, after her character had been untruthfully traduced by Rahman, Choudhury and Cllr Abdul Assad, one of the least competent members of the so called “Cabinet.”
The whole matter of grants is revealed in the PwC report. They matter has been debated in Parliament, raised at Tower Hamlets Council meetings and examined in an election court with little or no interest by the police.
The court established that election day, with its mobbing of polling stations, was not as reported by the police, who are described as acting like the three proverbial monkeys.
So what can happen?
It is less than a year since named people cast fraudulent ballots that can and should be re-investigated. The return of election expenses, which is farcical, can be investigated as can the grants, property disposals and general favouring of Rahman supporters.
I have submitted eight written statements and hundreds of pages of material. There are thousands of pages of good and firm evidence logged at this trial by numerous witnesses.
In 2005, Tower Hamlets saw one of the dirtiest parliamentary elections in decades.
In 2006, George Galloway described the local elections as the worse in over a century. Amongst those whose vote was stolen by a forged postal vote application was Pennie Clarke, a candidate, who failed in the election by just 159 votes.
In 2008, despite the huge swing against Labour and Ken Livingstone, there was a big swing to him in certain wards of Tower Hamlets where turnout and postal votes rose enormously. Outside mosques, an organisation distributed illegal leaflets from an organisation called “Muslims for Ken” claiming that Boris Johnson planned to ban the Koran. On the same day, it took until 5pm to have a polling official removed from the Virginia School polling station who was helpfully pointing out Ken Livingstone’s name on the ballot to Bangaldeshi women, and then checking that they “had filled their ballot correctly” afterwards.
In 2010, we held a shambolic combined local and general election, in which the national media, local activists and Mr Galloway found hundreds of “ghost voters” often as many as eighteen an address.
In 2012, the situation was worse than ever with even a man who had died in Bangladesh managing to vote from beyond the grave and “ghost voters” across electoral registers.
Finally we come to 2014, where at last brave citizens put their reputations and livelihood at risk and launched a petition into this appalling state of affairs.
As we know, the police are nowhere. Unanswered letters have piled up. One former borough commander told the then Chief Executive that he did not know how to contact me. In 2012, a half-hearted investigation took place. The officer I eventually met, three months after the election, was interested as to whether material such as the postal vote register had been legally obtained by me. He had a list of “ghost voters”, but in many cases simply contacted the town hall to see if they were registered: job done.
In 2013 the Electoral Commission published a report on the 2012 elections in Tower Hamlets that does not even dignify the description of a whitewash. Considered by the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee in close session, the report was torn to shreds.
The Electoral Commission report into the events of 2014 is scarcely better.
Both make claims as to how robust the electoral process is in this borough. It is not, and it is known to be particularly bad – not least by the Electoral Commission.
The Met and the Electoral Commission, by their inaction and by ignoring what is so well known, are partly responsible for this state of affairs. Their solution is: let’s put the past behind us, and everyone will sign a protocol to behave.
I am writing this after once again meeting residents who say that voting is a waste of time because of what goes on. They salute the work of fearless journalists such as Ted Jeory and Andrew Gilligan, both of whom have been threatened . They admire the petitioners – but where are the authorities responsible for maintaining a free and fair election?
Sadly, many of our actual electoral procedures date back to the 19th century, and it shows. The 21st century decision to allow postal voting on demand needs to be reviewed to ensure that voting is once again a private act in public rather than a public act in private.
Throughout the world,, the registration process is tighter than in the UK and in an environment where I need ID to join the library, why is it that anyone can be given a ballot paper by simply giving a name and address?