Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.

On January 4th, Chaudhhary Mohammed Iqbal, a Labour councillor for the Loxford Ward of Redbridge from May 2018 until his resignation last year, was jailed for 17 months for providing a false address on his nomination papers. In addition, he was ordered to pay back the £18,368 he had received as councillor allowances and a further £10,000 towards the cost of the eventual by-election for the ward.

The former councillor actually lived in the borough of Barking and Dagenham but used a false address in Redbridge for his 2018 nomination papers. It was revealed in court that over several years he had changed political parties twice and used “multiple false addresses” to attempt to secure nomination and election. The false address he used in Redbridge was in respect of a property that he owned and let to an eastern European tenant who has since left the country and is subject to a European arrest warrant.

Before sentencing, he was told by Her Honour Judge Sally Cahill:

“You decided you wanted to become a local councillor, despite the fact that you were not qualified to do so. You joined Labour in 2007 to achieve that object and, when you failed in your attempts with them, you became a Conservative. That did not succeed so you went back to the Labour Party.”

“You gave various addresses, including one non-residential, because you wanted to appear to live in the area for which you wanted to be a councillor. You went so far as to instruct your tenants that they should leave the water bill in your name and that they should not register to vote at that property.”

“In September 2019, you were interviewed under caution. You answered questions and gave a detailed account supporting your answer. It was all lies. During (the police) investigation, you decided to carry on as a councillor. You went to meetings, you claimed expenses and met with constituents. You did not resign until October 1, 2020. You quite deliberately involved yourself and your tenant in telling lies to cover your tracks and, had you been successful, you would no doubt have continued to act as a councillor.”

Both Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham are near Tower Hamlets. In recent years residents from both of these boroughs used false addresses in Tower Hamlets in attempts to secure election to Tower Hamlets council. In three well known cases, fraudsters from these boroughs were actually elected to the councils, others failed. A number of the fraudsters were named by Commissioner Mawrey in 2015.

I quote from the Commissioners judgment on Redbridge resident and former Labour and Tower Hamlets First councillor, Kabir Ahmed. His situation is very similar to that of the recently jailed former Redbridge councillor:

“For some time Kabir 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.”

“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 6TT: 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. 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. “

“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.”

Unfortunately, as we know only too well, none of the Tower Hamlets fraudsters were ever prosecuted; the police neither interviewed nor took statements from potential witnesses or follow up evidence that was provided to them. In the recent Redbridge case the police were far more active in following through evidence.

With London elections due in May 2022, Lutfur Rahman, his disqualification from office now completed, is campaigning hard to return to power. This month he appeared on Channel S, a highly controversial TV station, which targets the Bangladeshi community and has repeatedly been censured by Ofcom for bias and unbalanced coverage, as well as being threatened with the loss of its licence. The founder of the station, Mahee Ferdhaus, has twice been imprisoned for fraud. Between his most recent conviction and sentencing, he regularly interviewed then Mayor Lutfur Rahman. Returning the favour, Lutfur Rahman provided the Court with a highly supportive reference, written on official council notepaper. This did not impress the trial Judge as can be seen here.

Channel S is again providing Lutfur Rahman with a sympathetic platform to talk of his innocence, as he proclaims that he was never prosecuted for any offence and indeed has letters from the police proving his “innocence.”

This ongoing claim of innocence will be absolutely toxic amongst the Bangladeshi community of Tower Hamlets in the 2022 elections. Sensing this danger, the Labour Party has proposed a referendum to replace the Mayor by a Leader and Cabinet model. This began with a petition, presented to the council by a Labour activist at the November 2020 meeting. Next door Newham established a commission, held in public, to review the Mayoral system and has recommended changes to the process. The decision for a Tower Hamlets referendum and the model to be used was agreed, not following public consultation, but at an internal meeting of the Labour group on the council. Councillor Andrew Wood had launched a public survey in which a number of options were proposed, including returning to the committee system. Labour used their majority to brush this proposal aside, despite it inviting public comments and publishing the results.

An open meeting has now been held involving the wider community to plan for the referendum campaign. Unfortunately, whereas the Labour, Conservative, and Green Parties were all present at this launch meeting to discuss how to work in the campaign, the Liberal Democrats were absent.

The date chosen for the referendum is May 6th. On that day, electors will also be voting for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly as well as the referendum. Across seventeen wards of the borough there will be four different ballot papers. Electors in the three wards that cover the Isle of Dogs will also receive a ballot paper to approve the local Neighbourhood Plan, giving them five ballot papers. This will be a recipe for confusion and Lutfur Rahman knows this. Already claiming that he was removed from office by a conspiracy, the same conspirators are intent on removing what he regards as his rightful office in a confusing ballot process.

Had this been a stand-alone referendum, there would have been the opportunity for a genuine public debate on the options. As it is, combined with a multiple election at a time when campaigning will be restricted, this does not augur well.

This brings me to the poll itself. The Rahman supporters with the assistance of Channel S and similar organisations will concentrate on the referendum. For them, the referendum is all. Win that and they believe that Rahman has a clear path back to power. The other party activists will be campaigning for their candidates for both London Mayor and GLA as well as combining for a referendum. In a situation where face to face campaigning will be minimal and leaflet delivery restricted, it will be a no holds barred opportunity for the Rahman campaign to win a majority to retain the position of Executive Mayor.

The referendum campaign will leave the Police, the Electoral Commission, and the Crown Prosecution Service, in an extremely difficult situation. All are tainted by their previous failures in Tower Hamlets. They will somehow have to reassure an electorate only too well aware of their historic catalogue of failure. On the other side, there will be a rejuvenated Lutfur Rahman who can, and does, brandish letters from the Police “proving” his innocence.

Operation Lynemouth, the investigation into policing and elections in Tower Hamlets, said with regard to 2014:

“The policing of the election and the subsequent investigation was deficient in too many areas. There was a lack of corporate responsibility, a lack of training and insufficient resources for the SET investigation. In essence, the MPS did not consider the election and investigation a priority.”

The investigation and prosecution of former Cllr Iqbal in Redbridge suggests that lessons have been learned, but have they been learned in Tower Hamlets? Will the police, who have long treated Lutfur Rahman with undeserved respect, enforce the law?

A predictable flashpoint will be the 6th May election day itself. All elections involving Lutfur Rahman and his cohorts have seen polling stations mobbed by his supporters, harassing voters attempting to enter and record their votes. In 2018 the Independent body, Democracy Volunteers, reported on the local elections in Tower Hamlets. They were concerned about intimidation outside of polling stations, usually by supporters of, “Aspire,” the latest Rahman supporting party as approved by the Electoral Commission. In a covid environment and the requirement for social distancing, the police must ensure that polling stations will be free from both intimidation and do not become a health risk. The Metropolitan Police will need to be planning now as to how to prevent squads of aggressive campaigners lobbying, jostling, and approaching electors at polling stations. There is evidence from colleagues that this mobbing of polling stations is increasing elsewhere. If necessary, legal regulations must be bought in to prevent this.

The authorities must also consider regulations to prevent postal vote harvesting. Again, this is a situation that has spread to many areas. As we know a “postal vote harvester” was jailed in Peterborough. Those who “harvest” postal votes will be well prepared. I understand that there are to be arrangements to make postal voting easier. This should also include rules to prevent activists collecting and keeping postal votes and arriving at polling stations with bags of postal votes. There should also be rules about activists retaining photocopies of postal vote applications, which contain a full name, address, electoral number, date of birth, and a signature.

It is six years since the corrupt and flawed election that embarrassed London and the country was laid bare in the High Court of London. Have the police learned from this and do they have a plan to ensure that the residents of Tower Hamlets will vote safely and securely? I very much hope so.