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Police urged to probe corrupt mayor

Published 23/04/2015

Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman has been accused of electoral fraud
Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman has been accused of electoral fraud

Police are being urged to investigate a mayor found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices by a judge following a High Court hearing.

Lutfur Rahman - directly-elected mayor of Tower Hamlets in east London - was today found "personally" guilty of wrongdoing and "guilty by his agents" by Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey.

Mr Mawrey, who analysed evidence at an Election Court trial in London earlier this year, said his ruling meant that the 2014 Tower Hamlets mayoral election was void and would have to be re-run.

And he said it meant that Mr Rahman - a former Labour councillor who had stood for mayor on an independent ticket - would be barred from running for office for five years.

Four voters had taken legal action against Mr Rahman under the provisions of the Representation Of The People Act.

The group was headed by Andy Erlam, who had stood as a councillor on an anti-corruption ticket.

Mr Erlam said Mr Mawrey's ruling was "fantastic for democracy" but he said more inquiries were needed.

He urged police to investigate and called on prosecutors to consider bringing criminal charges.

"The ruling today is fantastic - a great result for democracy," said Mr Erlam.

"But more is needed. The police have never properly investigated what has been going on - I urge them to do that.

"And we want the Crown Prosecution Service to consider all the evidence and see whether charges should be brought."

Lawyers for the group of four voters had made a series of allegations, including ''personation'' in postal voting and at polling stations, and ballot paper tampering.

Mr Rahman had said there was ''little, if any'' evidence of wrongdoing against him.

His lawyers described the group of four's claims as invention, exaggeration and ''in some cases downright deliberately false allegations''.

But Mr Mawrey made a series of findings against Mr Rahman - who was born in Bangladesh in 1965.

"The evidence laid before this court ... has disclosed an alarming state of affairs in Tower Hamlets," he said.

"This is not the consequence of the racial and religious mix of the population, nor is it linked to any ascertainable pattern of social or other deprivation. It is the result of the ruthless ambition of one man."

He added: "The real losers in this case are the citizens of Tower Hamlets."

Mr Mawrey said the effect of his ruling was that "Mr Rahman's election as mayor on May 22 2014 was void - that is to say, it is as if it had never taken place. He has not lawfully been mayor since that date".

He added: "It is declared that Mr Rahman shall be incapable of being elected to fill the vacancy for the office of Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets."

Mr Rahman was not in court to hear Mr Mawrey's verdict.

But a statement posted on his website said: "Today's judgment has come as a shock - the Mayor strongly denies any wrongdoing and had full confidence in the justice system, and so this result has been surprising to say the least.

"We are seeking further legal advice on the matter in relation to a judicial review."

Mr Mawrey said Mr Rahman had given evidence for several days - most of the time being cross-examined.

"Although faced with searching, hostile and, it must be said, occasionally mildly offensive questioning, Mr Rahman was unfailingly courteous and polite," said the judge.

"With regret, that is the only positive thing that can be said about his evidence."

He added: "It is a well-recognised trait of politicians, especially when questioned by the media, to avoid answering the question and to say, instead, what they conceive their 'message' to be ...

"Mr Rahman exemplified this trait to an extreme level.

"Faced with a straight question, he proved himself almost pathologically incapable of giving a straight answer."

The group of four voters had said there were ''serious questions'' which ''need answers''.

Barrister Francis Hoar, who represented the group, told Mr Mawrey: ''The allegations against Lutfur Rahman are that he was guilty of corrupt and illegal practices, directly or through his agents.''

Mr Hoar said his clients were accusing Mr Rahman of ''election fraud'' and that there had been ''personation'' in postal voting and at polling stations.

He said people had registered themselves or others to vote at addresses at which they did not live.

And he said there had been tampering with ballot papers.

Mr Hoar said Mr Rahman was also accused of ''making false statements'' about the ''personal character'' of his main rival - Labour candidate John Biggs.

He alleged ''undue influence'' by ''means of spiritual influence'' during the election campaign and on polling day.

He complained that canvassers had been paid.

He alleged ''undue influence through intimidation at polling stations'' and ''interference with voters'' - including in polling booths.

He alleged ''bribery'' through ''unlawfully diverting public funds to organisations in order corruptly to procure their political support''.

He said those organisations included religious organisations and "media organisations".

Mr Hoar said there had either been ''particular corrupt acts'' perpetrated by Mr Rahman or his agents or ''general corruption'', which ''so extensively prevailed that it may reasonably be supposed to have affected the result''.

He said Mr Rahman should be found ''guilty of corruption and illegal practices''.

Mr Hoar said the ''sulphur'' had ''long been bubbling'' in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

He said people had pointed to the ''spectre of corruption'' and ''election fraud'' but had been ''ignored'' and ''called racist''.

Mr Hoar said witnesses had ''reported threats of violence''.

And the judge made a series of findings in the voters' favour.

:: Sources estimated the total cost of the Election Court litigation to be in the region of £1 million. Mr Mawrey today ordered Mr Rahman to make a £250,000 payment on account of the costs incurred by the four voters and other parties involved. Barrister Duncan Penny QC, who represented Mr Rahman, challenged the sum claimed, describing it as "mind-boggling".

John Biggs, Rahman's mayoral rival and a Labour London Assembly member, called the judge's findings "scary" in their comprehensiveness.

He told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "People like Rahman are holding back people across our country and particularly in his own community.

"He should look very hard at himself and work out what he did wrong.

"The responsibility for people like myself is to try to build leadership."

Former mayor of London and Labour politician Ken Livingstone tonight questioned the decision to overturn an election.

He told Iain Dale at Drive on LBC: "If Lutfur Rahman has broken a law, why haven't the police arrested him and charged him?

"If Lutfur's done something wrong have him arrested - put him on trial.

"I hope Lutfur will appeal. In all my dealings with him, I have never seen anything dodgy, I've just seen someone totally committed.

"I think he's been a very good mayor."

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