A row has erupted over the Metropolitan Police’s decision to drop its investigation into electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets.
Anti-corruption campaigners have rejected what supporters of former Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman are hailing as the Met’s “landmark decision”.
The opposition Independent Group, which formed following the dissolution of the disgraced former mayor’s Tower Hamlets First party, sees the Met’s decision as vindication of its own position.
In a statement, the party’s leader Councillor Oliur Rahman describes the accusations against the ex-mayor as “politically motivated” and a “waste of time”.
“We said consistently that the claims against the former mayor would not meet the standards of a proper professional criminal investigation,” Cllr Rahman said.
“This has now been proven beyond any doubt by the Metropolitan Police’s Special Enquiry Team’s decision – after their careful and exhaustive review of the allegations and the judgement given by a civil court.
“These politically motivated and baseless accusations have been a waste of time, while money and attention taken away from the public.
“We hope that this landmark decision will serve as metaphorical ‘Ides of March’ moment for those who have been indulging in smears and libel.
Cllr Rahman’s comments have been criticised by election campaigners.
Andy Erlam, one of the anti-corruption campaigners who brought the election petition against Mr Rahman’s office, rejected the term “landmark decision”.
“The Met decision isn’t a landmark – it’s a landslide of incompetence and reluctance to tackle Tower Hamlets. It’s a huge error of judgment. Why are the police so scared?” Mr Erlam said.
‘Ineffective’ election law
Defending the Met’s decision, Cllr Rahman denounced the election law system as “unfit for purpose”.
“A Spectator editor, senior clergymen and the Local Government Chronicle have all said that they believe the election law system is unfit for purpose, said Cllr Rahman.
But the councillor’s comments drew criticism from Bob Watt, Professor of Law at Buckingham University.
Professor Watt accepted that the election law system was faulty, but rejected Cllr Rahman’s reasoning.
“It is indeed true that the election law system is unfit for purpose,” Professor Watt said.
“However the reason for many of these criticisms is that it is inefficient and ineffective in preventing electoral corruption.
“It could well be argued that an improved election law would have prevented many of the abuses for which Mr Lutfur Rahman was found liable.”
‘Barrage of smears’
Cllr Rahman also accused “opportunists” of seeking to smear the former mayor.
“Currently, politically-motivated, well-funded opportunists can bring a barrage of smears to court without having to undergo proper scrutiny – and yet genuine complainants face considerable financial barriers in getting their grievances heard,” he said.
But Professor Watt leapt to the defence of the campaigners, including Andy Erlam, who brought the election petition against Mr Rahman’s office.
“To say that they were “well funded” is simply incorrect,” said Professor Watt. “These people put their entire livelihoods at risk; if they had lost they would have faced certain bankruptcy.
“It is true that ‘genuine complainants face considerable barriers in getting their grievances heard’ – Mr Erlam and his fellow petitioners faced precisely these barriers and Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC drew attention to this point in giving judgement.”
Professor Watt argued that allegations made in an election petition are scrutinised in open court “as they should be” with the respondent having the opportunity of legal representation.
He also pointed out that before becoming leader of the Independent Group, Cllr Rahman was a “leading councillor” in Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First party.
The Electoral Commission cancelled Tower Hamlets First’s registration when it was found that it had failed to comply with the registration procedure and to submit proper accounts.