Cllr Peter Golds is Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council.
Almost three years after being disqualified from office on grounds of corruption and election fraud, Lutfur Rahman, the former Mayor of Tower Hamlets continues to cast a dark shadow over public life in the borough. Before Christmas he was struck off the roll of solicitors and handed an £86,400 costs order by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority had charged Rahman with “failing to uphold the rule of law and administration of justice, failing to act with integrity and failing to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in him and in the provision of legal services”. The tribunal found all allegations put forward by the SRA to be proven. This case had commenced in April 2015 when the Election Court referred Rahman to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Barrister for the election petitioners, Francis Hoar said this was, by his count “at least the sixth ‘spin off’ litigation from Lutfur Rahman since the election court findings”.
Time after time he has been called to order and plays the system in order to delay the inevitable. Three days before this last hearing was due to start, he sought an adjournment claiming that he was seeking legal advice on challenging his failed Judicial Review which upheld the Election Court Judgement. He was also, apparently, unable to secure appropriate legal representation for this hearing. One may ask how his legal training would enable him to question the Judgement of two of the most senior Judges in the country who had dismissed his application for a Judicial Review and yet be unable to justify his actions as a solicitor in public office to his professional body?
Lutfur Rahman is a local man, educated in the borough, who trained as a lawyer, entered local government, yet ended up being exposed as willing to corrupt the voting system and his local council. Ultimately for what? His reputation is shredded and his actions in power were seen to resemble a gang boss rather than a civic leader in the world’s greatest city.
Yet still his supporters cry “racism and Islamophobia” at any hint of criticism of him. In November, an anodyne council motion calling on all members to acknowledge the past and pledge to fight a clean election was subject to a bizarre and theatrical walkout by the remaining Rahman councillors (they have split into at least three factions since losing power) claiming the motion was “illegal”.
“They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing” is a quotation often attributed to the great diplomat Talleyrand in describing the restored Bourbons after the French Revolution. It is the same with Tower Hamlets First. Even now, election candidates on the 2018 Rahman ticket are routinely making toxic allegations against opponents. Anonymous leaflets, defaming local politicians are being distributed, just as in 2014 and previous elections. Whilst this goes on, the reputation of the borough itself suffers.
The abject failure of the police to properly investigate the events of 2014 has given a lease of life to the Rahman team. They repeatedly say that as there have been no police charges, nothing criminal happened. HMIC are, at last investigating this situation under Operation Lynemouth, and in their recent quarterly report the two following paragraphs stand out:
“It would appear that the original MPS investigation failed to secure pivotal evidence which could have led to further enquiries. Operation Lynemouth has done so and is seeking early advice from the CPS as to whether the evidence provides realistic opportunities for investigation and prosecution.”
“The MPS’s fraud squad considered ten matters during the original investigation, including allegations of fraud, bribery, perjury and tax evasion, but did not make any arrests. Operation Lynemouth has already identified potential evidential opportunities, although there is still much work to be done.”
This is an indication that work is going on to establish what went wrong in 2014 and what can be done to resolve the situation.
Problems of alleged corruption continue in the borough. In December the Sunday Times insight team carried a story naming a local “fixer” of whom they had a recording seeking substantial sums from a developer with which he would bribe contacts in the Labour Party. This information, having been given to the Council in 2015, was, in April 2016, reported to the National Crime Agency. At least this was handed over to the authorities.
What does cause concern,and not just with me as we approach May 2018, is that the Scotland Yard Special Enquiry Team, who are to be responsible for overseeing the election are led by the officer who had charge of the investigations into Rahman.
This is the very officer who said, at a disastrous meeting held locally in July 2016, with only carefully selected attendees, in connection with what ever police activity took place in the aftermath of the election petition; “addresses were visited and people spoken to”. This is the same officer who did not seek witness statements from those who had publicly come forward at the time of the petition and the same officer who did not seek to examine the twenty seven files of documents from the petition, despite being recommended to do this by Francis Hoar in the autumn of 2015.
Tower Hamlets, along with several other high profile authorities was expected to be included in the voter ID pilot scheme. In our case the Chief Executive said that he was not sure that this could be implemented in time and so the borough was excluded. Slough, another authority with a chequered electoral past excluded itself by a vote of the council, shortly before the controversial council leader was forced to resign.
There will be extra checks on postal votes in Tower Hamlets. This will involve tracking the postal votes – and the government will be considering what checks can be placed on handling postal voters by those who are not the actual elector. Undoubtedly this may stop some of the more egregious examples of fraud that so damaged the 2014 election in Tower Hamlets.
For years I warned how the electoral process in this borough had been corrupted. The ongoing failure of the police to deal with this problem resulted in the fraud becoming ever more blatant. I will say again, it takes a great deal of imagination not to find it suspicious that an individual would contest two elections in six weeks, in two wards in the same borough, using two different names and two different home addresses, neither of which were his home.
As he did not live at the given addresses, presumably he was not even “spoken to”.
We can but hope that 2018 is not a repeat of 2014.