Cllr Peter Golds is Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council.
Two weeks ago I attended a depressing meeting hosted by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner for Professionalism, Helen King. This was a briefing regarding the actions taken by the Metropolitan Police Service and Crown Prosecution Service in relation to electoral fraud allegations and the management of elections in Tower Hamlets.
AC King was accompanied by DI Gail Glanville, Superintendent Peter Turner of Tower Hamlets Police, who earlier this year faced the council’s overview and scrutiny and committee during which his only response to questions on electoral malpractice was “before my time” and finally Nick Vamos of the Crown Prosecution Service.
From the council were three of the DCLG appointed Commissioners, the Chief Executive, Mayor John Biggs and myself. The leader of the Independents had been invited but, unsurprisingly did not attend. Significantly, none of the petitioners who risked their reputations and savings in bringing the case to court were invited or even notified of this meeting.
As we know the Tower Hamlets election petition was a landmark judgement. However, the Metropolitan Police, as I have previously written, described it in a press release as “a report” and, it is as a report that they have treated this judgement and subsequent investigations.
After the Slough and Woking election petitions vote fraudsters were charged and prosecuted for Conspiracy to Defraud the Returning Officer. Evidence both in the petitions and the subsequent court cases showed that that the local police forces investigated the criminals registering false voters and these investigations led to prosecution and conviction. Significantly, statements and evidence was collected from those who had given evidence at the civil court, which reached the level required for a criminal case and was successfully used in evidence by the prosecution.
Yet in Tower Hamlets the police were unable to produce evidence to prosecute, despite the willingness of potential witnesses to provide statements and evidence.
To give an indication of this, let me quote, verbatim, three examples from the Tower Hamlets judgement:
316 The first candidate was MonirUzzaman (aliter Monirazzuman) Syed who stood for THF in Bromley North. Also registered at this flat were four people, two people with Italian names, one with a Lithuanian name and one with an Asian name. In a witness statement Mr Syed claimed to have lived there at the time of the election but to have moved away immediately afterwards for personal reasons. He was not called to give evidence to support his witness statement and it is noticeable that the address he did furnish on one statement was in Ilford. Mr Syed had an interesting relationship with this property. In 2013 he applied to be a candidate for the Labour Party but I was told by Mr Chris Weavers, the Labour Party electoral agent, whose evidence I accept, that Mr Syed had been turned down (inter alia) on the ground that he could not satisfy the Party that he genuinely lived at that address. Mr Syed then tried his luck with THF whose selection processes (ie interview with Mr Rahman) seem to have satisfied that party that he was indeed resident at 16 Prioress House. It is remarked by the Petitioners that Mr Syed, being an estate agent, would have access to information.
Aktaruz Zaman, later Mohammed Aktaruzzaman
317 One of the more curious witnesses in the case was a man who stood as a THF candidate in the May election as Aktaruz Zaman in St Peter’s Ward. At that time he gave his address as 312 The Highway, to which we shall return. He was unsuccessful. He then decided to stand, again for THF, in the election for the ward of Blackwall and Cubitt Town in the election that had been postponed from May 2014 because of the death of a THF candidate. Mr Zaman told the court that he decided that being called ‘Zaman’ was not a good idea because it meant he came last on the ballot paper (this being alphabetical) and he also decided that he needed a change of air. Consequently he changed his name to ‘Mohammed Aktaruzzaman’ and suddenly decamped from The Highway to 16 Prioress House (within days of the May election). He must presumably have moved in just as Mr Syed was moving out. Sadly for this man, moving his name to the other end of the alphabet did him no good. He was not elected for Blackwall and Cubitt Town either.
318 When canvassing for the election Khales Uddin Ahmed (the successful Labour candidate for Bromley North Ward) visited a number of properties including 16 Prioress House. His evidence, which I accept on this point, is that, in May 2014 the only resident was a European male and that Mr Syed did not live there. When Mr Gilligan called, in June 2014, he found that no person whose name appeared on the register lived at that address.
319 I am completely satisfied that neither of these two THF candidates ever resided at 16 Prioress House. Their registration was false and it follows that, when they voted in the election (as it is not contested they did), they were guilty of an offence under s 61 of the 1983 Act. Now, clearly, when Mr Zaman voted in the postponed election he cannot have voted for Mr Rahman who had been elected back in May. Nevertheless Mr Zaman’s mendacity in respect of 16 Prioress House did not bode well for his attempt to convince me that he resided at 312 The Highway at the date of the May election, at which he had also voted.
322 Next we have Mr Kabir Ahmed. He is one of several brothers and is an active member of the Mayor’s team. Mr Ahmed was a Labour Councillor in the previous administration and was one of those who had ‘defected’ to Mr Rahman and become an independent. He was ‘selected’ as a THF candidate for Weavers Ward in 2014 and stood unsuccessfully.
323 For some time Mr Ahmed had given his address as 236a Bethnal Green Road, E2 0AA, a flat above a shop. This was said to be a property with four double en-suite bedrooms and a shared living room. The other occupants were said to be: Mr Ahmed’s wife Sibly Rahman, his brother Mohammed Ansar Hussein, a Mohammed Mokit and Ala Uddin, who was said to work in the shop on the ground floor. According to Councillor Mohammed Abdul Mukit MBE, who knew Mr Ahmed well, he was not actually resident at that address, although he undoubtedly used it as an address for receiving mail. Both Mr Mukit and Mr Gilligan stated that the room allegedly occupied by Mr Ahmed and his wife was completely bare except for one bed, one chair and one desk.
324 Mr Ahmed’s non-residence in the Borough was a matter of some notoriety. Councillor Peter Golds, an indefatigable letter-writer had written to various people to complain about this more than once and had raised it in open council. Councillor Mukit confirmed that Mr Ahmed actually lives at 52 Gants Hill Crescent, Ilford IG2 6TT43: he had attended his wedding, the invitation to which had given that property as Mr Ahmed’s address. Mr Ahmed admitted in cross-examination that he paid no rent for 236a Bethnal Green Road and that he spent a lot of time in Gants Hill visiting his elderly parents.
325 Mr Gilligan told the court that Tracesmart and credit records he had checked also showed Mr Ahmed and his wife as resident in Gants Hill.
326 Applying the statutory test of residence set out above, I am quite satisfied that 326a Bethnal Green Road was not such a ‘residence’ as would entitle Mr Ahmed to be registered to vote from that address and I am equally satisfied that this was a mere accommodation address, used for administrative purposes. I did not accept that Mr Ahmed had any genuine belief that this was his residence: he quite clearly knew that the falsity of the residence was well- known to his political opponents and he continued to use that address.
327 It follows that Mr Ahmed’s registration was a false registration and that his votes were unlawful.
The police were informed in writing before, during and after the 2014 election that these three candidates were using false addresses. In the case of Kabir Ahmed, they were notified as far back as 2010, that he did not live at the address where he was registered. In fact letters were sent at subsequent elections all of which remained unanswered and no investigation was undertaken.
This goes to the hub of the long record of total indifference by the police. None of those who had worked to expose the three fraudsters named above and are highlighted have been asked to provide further evidence or witness statements. I, for example, could provide evidence that as far back as 2010 Monirazzuman Syed was living with his family in Ilford. I would also guess that more than a third of Tower Hamlets Councillors would also be able to give chapter and verse as to Kabir Ahmed’s actual home in Gants Hill.
I undertook extensive work to investigate Aktaruz Zaman. This included his movements on and off the Tower Hamlets register, his actual home in Shoreham and indeed his business in Horsham. I have never been asked to provide any of this. A C King says that a dedicated team of officers were investigating. Staggeringly, they were unable to find anything strange in a man who in the space of six weeks fought elections in two wards in the same borough, using two different names and two different addresses. If they had met him they would have found a man wearing designer suits, driving an expensive Mercedes car, showing off a chunky gold watch whilst claiming to share a bedroom with a Lithuanian resident who had never met him on the Bow Bridge Estate .Midsomer Murders, it is not!
Instead the police and CPS at this meeting meandered around the criminal barrier and admissible evidence. As they had not sought evidence from potential witnesses it was unlikely that they would have evidence, admissible or otherwise. DI Grainger, giving a more than passable impression of a first round contestant in Pointless or The Chase, talked about allegations and calling at addresses and people being “spoken” to. As they had not spoken to those of us who had amassed evidence, did she expect people such as Kabir Ahmed to admit that for years he had been using a false address for electoral and voting purposes?
However, far worse was to come. It is now known that only a “thin file” was presented to the Crown Prosecution Service and this file did not include any investigation into findings of bribery and corruption found by Commissioner Mawrey.
AC King said, and I wrote this down and read it back “the police decided not to refer any cases for a charging decision.”
On this matter, one of the commissoners asked repeatedly had the police and indeed the CPS read the dismissal for Judicial review of the election petition by Lord Justice Lloyd Jones of the Supreme Court. In this rejection Lord Justice Lloyd Jones was scathing in the matter of bribery that had taken place in Tower Hamlets.
Mr Vamos then said, and I wrote this down and repeated it, as did a Commissioner, that he “had read parts of the Mawrey Judgement.”
Here we have a representative of the CPS, informing a meeting that he had “read parts” of a landmark legal judgement into electoral malpractice. Some in the room were left open mouthed.
This can only be equalled by an investigating officer in 2015 saying over the telephone to a lawyer that she had not read the Judgement at all.
The staggering misuse of the council for the purpose of bribery was simply ignored. No wonder the police had not sought further evidence.
Lawyers whom I and other colleagues have spoken to, are mystified as to why there have been no prosecutions, and dismiss the refrain of burden of proof.
They all agree that the proof is available, it is the police failing to assemble the proof wherein lies the problem. I have communicated with a leading barrister on a tangential investigation. I can only quote from the opening paragraph of a letter to me;
“I think I must have led a sheltered life! Until I got involved in helping (name supplied)I had not realised how lazy, incompetent and corrupt the criminal justice system had become since I cut my teeth in the Crown Courts over 20 years ago. There exists constitutional defeatism among laughingly-called “professionals” and the number of individuals whose files I have placed in the cabinets “Supine”, “Venal and “Supine and Venal” is truly shocking.”
There is also the problem of the electoral commission, whose “dance of inertia” with the police is an ongoing problem. The electoral commission is simply not up to the job. As Sir Eric says the oversight of elections should be returned to a Government Department which itself is open to public scrutiny by a select committee. As the report points out, the silence of the commission on Tower Hamlets 2014 is quite extraordinary, although with the police inaction they are able to say there is no problem, as they continue to do.
Sir Eric has produced a very well written and extraordinarily balanced report. As can be seen from the witnesses he has spoken to many, from across the board, who are intimately involved in the electoral process.
It is a pity that the Metropolitan Police appear not to have spoken to a number of these witnesses in drawing up their conclusions.
Let me now turn to Sir Eric’s timely recommendations.
Of the 50 recommendations my nine personal highlights, which are concerns which I have repeatedly raised are:
- Requiring identification to vote at polling stations, with initial pilot schemes of different options.
- Stronger police powers to tackle intimidation outside polling stations.
- Banning political activists from handling postal votes to stop ‘vote harvesting.’
- The abolition of permanent postal votes.
- Tougher checks on electoral registration to prevent the electoral register being used for immigration and benefit fraud.
- Learning the lessons of Tower Hamlets, with new corruption-busting powers for the press, public and councillors to scrutinise the decisions of elected mayors and cabinets, from whistleblowing protections to stronger rights to inspect council documents.
- Rationalising the procedures for election petitions. It is simply not right that citizens should win in court and find that the crook leaves them with the bill.
- The count process must be made universal and transparent.
- A new role for the National Crime Agency to tackle complex election fraud cases.
The OECD has expressed concern at the frailties in our voting system. The production of a form of ID when voting is normal elsewhere. Interestingly in my experience, it is older voters, those who vote regularly, who often express the most concerns about simply giving a name and address to receive a ballot paper. The idea that it is “Britain at its best” that somebody is able to appear at a polling station, give a name and address and be handed a ballot paper is no longer acceptable to ever increasing numbers of voters.
I am writing this as the BBC are reporting on the response to the Pickles enquiry and their shots of Tower Hamlets polling stations are evidence that there is a growing problem with the mobbing of polling stations. If there is no problem in some areas, then there needs be no action. However, where there is a problem, and it is increasing, there needs to be powers to prevent it.
There have long been concerns regarding postal voting. Unfortunately, it may now be difficult to remove a process which has been in operation for more than a decade. What can and must be done is to ensure that there are stringent rules as to the handling of postal votes by anyone other than the voter and that applications are regularly renewed.
Returning to Tower Hamlets, in advance of the countermanded poll in Blackwall and Cubitt Town Ward in July 2014, a man was stopped in a car at Westferry Circus, Canary Wharf. There were 200 photocopies of postal vote applications in the boot of his car. For what legitimate reason would anyone have 200 photocopies of postal vote applications in a car boot?
These forms after all, contain the full names, addresses, dates of birth and the signature of an elector.
Inevitably, the driver was “spoken to” and, in line with the Metropolitan Police’s commitment to taking electoral fraud seriously, no further action was taken.
I wonder what would be said if a car were stopped with photocopies of 200 credit card applications?
There remains the problem and it is a problem, of misplaced political correctness. The electoral commission itself commissioned and published an academic report in 2015 entitled “Understanding electoral fraud vulnerability in Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin communities in England”.
There have been other similar reports as well as well studied contributions from politicians ranging from Labour’s Dr Tony Wright to Paul Goodman.
Lutfur Rahman has made a career of responding to criticisms and questions by making accusations of racism. Yet he founded a political party including incredibly nasty racists, homophobes and anti-semites. He poured taxpayer’s money into so called “community groups” which were actually hard line Mosques. He gave out funds for “mother tongue teaching” which increased isolation within his core community. Council money was paid over to his community newspapers and TV stations which duly promoted him, often in slavish terms. Despite regular and indeed sustained criticism by Ofcom, each new grant was signed off by council officers. Meetings that he held were overwhelmingly attended by men and where women were present they were generally gender segregated. One of his favoured venues boasted on its website that it had facilities for gender segregation. His political group was entirely Bangladeshi and after the 2014 election included just one woman.
On the day the hearing commenced the pro-Rahman paper, London Bangla was published with the headline ”An attack on Lutfur Rahman is an attack on all British Bangladeshis.” The author was a beneficiary of a council funded “community group” decided by Rahman and his son was employed by Rahman in his council office. Contempt of Court or not (and most say that it was) the police did not want to know.
Before the commencement of the election petition hearing, there was a preliminary hearing. One person present, I am told, who was laughing and joking with Rahman officials was one of the police officers who had been dealing with questions arising from the 2014 election. Rahman himself was provided with a bodyguard of policemen when he appeared in court.
The judiciary itself took the unprecedented step of having the case assigned to the Royal Court of Justice rather than be heard locally because of concerns regarding intimidation and the security of documents.
It is not racist to enforce the law. In London that the Metropolitan Police is currently not up to dealing with this problem The racism comes when the law is not enforced, or worse ignored thereby allowing lawbreakers within communities to break the law unheeded.
There must be a programme of community education as to what is legal and what is not within the electoral process. This can only succeed if the police do the job that they are expected to do.
The failure of the police to properly investigate the horrific cases of rape and abuse in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford have caused terrible damage in public police relations. The Metropolitan Police spent millions of pounds on the failed “Operation Midland” and the public will soon learn the full extent of this disaster on the publication of the investigation by Sir Richard Henriques.
Electoral malpractice is likely to be the next disaster. It is not too late for that “thin file” to be properly looked at and a full investigation undertaken.
Since 2010 I have counted nine judges that have taken corrupt Lutfur Rahman to task. There should have been another one, with a jury, to finish his corruption once and for all.