Police decision to drop electoral fraud investigation branded ‘utter disgrace’

Lutfur Rahman
Off the hook: police probe found ‘insufficient evidence’ of electoral fraud for criminal prosecutions

A police investigation into electoral fraud under former Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman has been dropped, after finding “insufficient evidence that criminal offences had been committed”.

The decision was branded an “utter disgrace” by campaigners whose petition successfully overturned the May 2014 election result that gave Lutfur Rahman a second term as mayor.

Mr Rahman was found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices in a High Court hearing last year.

The Met subsequently launched a review following the publication of a 200-page High Court judgement into voter intimidation during the 2014 election.

Police announced on Wednesday that they had finished their 12-month assessment of the High Court report and there was “insufficient evidence” that criminal offences had been committed.

Andy Erlam, one of the anti-corruption campaigners who brought the election petition against Mr Rahman’s office, said: “The Met police decision not to prosecute any of the offenders identified in the Tower Hamlets election court is outrageous.”

Mr Erlam presented the Election Commissioner with boxes of evidence from witnesses, but claims the police “never properly followed up” the detailed allegations he and his fellow campaigners submitted.

“The police continue to turn a blind eye in Tower Hamlets,” said Mr Erlam. “The Met has protected Mr Rahman and continue to do so. We will now consider taking private prosecutions.

“The Met decision is an utter disgrace.”

Councillor Peter Golds, leader of Tower Hamlets Conservatives, said: “This is the latest in years of failed investigations by the police into electoral malpractice in Tower Hamlets.

“The 200-page judgment, thousands of pages witness statements and the six weeks of evidence provided overwhelming evidence of corrupt and illegal practices, bribery, false voting and postal vote fraud.

“This is a slap in the face to the brave residents who have risked all to root out local corruption.

“Staggeringly, Lutfur Rahman was severely criticised by no fewer than eight different judges in courts at all levels between 2011–2016. The MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) should have seen that the allegations were publicly tested in court.”

Commenting on the police’s decision, Professor Bob Watt at the University of Buckingham’s School of Law said: ” If the most experienced local government election judge in the country decides guilt, I find it incomprehensible that the police have decided not to proceed.

“I can only conclude that the police feel that they have more pressing operational matters.

“This appears to be quite inconsistent with the latest recommendations of the Law Commission which views electoral offences as of the utmost seriousness.

“I am also surprised at the decision in the light of the decision by Sir Eric pickles to institute a review of election fraud in the light of the Tower Hamlets affair.

“My considered view is that this decision is the negation of democracy and is to be deplored.”

A spokesperson for the Met explained that the rules for election hearings are “different from criminal prosecutions” while some allegations have been deemed “out of time”.

The police review by detectives from the Special Enquiry Team (SET) identified five new allegations, one of which could not be pursued as the time limit of one year had expired before police were made aware of the allegation.

The probe also identified new material in connection with 47 of the allegations originally reported to them.

The Met explained the Election Petition Hearing was a civil process through the High Court, with “different rules” to those applied for criminal prosecution.

Despite receiving 164 complaints of election malpractice in Tower Hamlets relating to the May 2014 mayoral election, only two people were cautioned, the police have confirmed. There is also one criminal trial outstanding.

This article was updated at 14:55 on Thursday 17 March 2016 to include a statement from Professor Bob Watt.  – Ed.

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