John Biggs, the serving Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has expressed outrage that four voters who brought down his predecessor, the now disgraced politician Lutfur Rahman, are being “burdened to the point of bankruptcy” by their own lawyers.
Rahman was thrown out of office last year following a High Court hearing that lasted more than six weeks at which petitioners Debbie Simone, Andy Erlam, Azmal Hussain and Angela Moffat bravely challenged him and ultimately emerged victorious.
Election judge Richard Mawrey QC found Rahman guilty of illegal and corrupt practices, declared his re-election in May 2014 void and banned him from running again to be Mayor of the borough.
The four petitioners could not afford to pay solicitors during the election court process. Their only paid professional help was Francis Hoar, a barrister who they then sought to pay by recovering costs awarded against Rahman.
In order to do this, they hired solicitors Richard Slade and Company, but they say this firm is now pressing them for immediate payment of some £210,000.
Simone, Erlam, Hussain and Moffat are asking for donations from the public, saying they face ruin because of the demands.
In a statement on the website gofundme.com, they stated: “We were awarded costs but in the months that followed we have incurred high legal costs and we are now facing a shortfall even after the sale of the assets we have acquired.
“We took on this case for no personal gain, our only concern was to help bring back democracy to Tower Hamlets.”
Erlam told the East End Citizen it cost more in legal fees to seize Rahman’s assets than they were worth and said Slade and Company had not properly informed them of the amount they would be ultimately charged.
He added: “These solicitors are supposed to be acting in our interests.”
So far they have raised £465 in public donations in just a day, and their goal is to reach £100,000. Donations can be made here: https://www.gofundme.com/THElectionPetition
In a series of tweets last night, Mayor Biggs said the petitioners had taken “great risks to restore democracy”, adding that it was “entirely wrong” they now faced a legal bill in spite of their sacrifices.
He also said the legal system “should applaud petitioners for challenging corruption, not burden them to the point of bankruptcy”.
The East End Citizen contacted Slade and Company but they declined to comment, saying they did not discuss their clients’ or former clients’ confidential matters with the press.