Government’s crack team in Tower Hamlets slams police election fraud probe

Ex-mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman
Ex-mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman

A crack team sent in by the government to take control of Tower Hamlets Council has criticised police investigations into election fraud in the borough.

Commissioners led by the former Chief Fire Officer Sir Ken Knight predicted that the public’s faith in the criminal justice system would be dented because persons involved in vote-rigging had effectively gotten away with it without facing any consequences.

In a letter to Secretary of State Sajid Javid and current Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs, Sir Ken and his three-person team wrote: “To the outside world, the overall outcome of the investigations can only look like justice denied, and a taint still hangs over specific election outcomes.”

Current Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs
Current Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs

Eric Pickles, the former Secretary of State for local government, has previously suggested political correctness may have been partially to blame for what he characterised as a lack of action by the Met to pursue those suspected of wrongdoing in Tower Hamlets.

Sir Ken will now be summoned to give urgent evidence before a committee of politicians scrutinising the Metropolitan Police.

He and his team took charge of areas including awarding of grants, procurement and publicity amid a scandal that erupted in 2014 under the then mayor of the East London borough Lutfur Rahman.

Rahman was thrown out of office last year after an election judge at the High Court found him guilty of illegal and corrupt practices, but the team of commissioners remain in situ at the Town Hall in Mulberry Place, Poplar.

Tower Hamlets Town Hall. Photograph: Benjamin Mortimer
Tower Hamlets Town Hall. Photograph: Benjamin Mortimer

Individuals involved in the scandal have still not been “fully investigated and been held to account”, the commissioners’ letter warns.

It was read out at the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee by Conservative politician Tony Arbour, who said it had never before been made public.

In the document, the commissioners state: “We have followed the Metropolitan Police Service’s investigations closely and were disappointed to learn that, following the election court judgement, no new police interviews were undertaken and witnesses statements, although not relied on by the court, were not followed up or reviewed.

“Further, the conclusions of the High Court hearing on the judicial review appear not to have been considered.

“It is also clear that, whilst the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was involved, no file was produced [by police] for them to take a formal decision on prosecution.

“To the outside world, the overall outcome of the investigations can only look like justice denied, and a taint still hangs over specific election outcomes.”

Different narratives

Scotland Yard’s deputy chief Craig Mackey confirmed to Arbour that there have been further complaints of electoral malpractice in Tower Hamlets since the publication last year of QC Richard Mawrey’s report on allegations of electoral fraud.

Arbour then asked why no file had been produced for the CPS to take a decision about prosecuting – but Mackey maintained that a file had been dispatched to prosecutors.

Referring to the line in the commissioners’ letter, Arbour stated: “There can be really no dispute about the interpretation. No file. It says ‘No file’.”

But Mackey insisted that evidence was shared with the CPS.

Arbour then asked: “Does that mean you went to the CPS, you presented whatever evidence you had in relation to these additional matters and the CPS told you in terms that they would not act?”

Mackey confirmed this was correct.

Arbour then concluded that there was an “absolute difference” between the Met’s version of events and the conclusions drawn by the commissioners and complainants in Tower Hamlets.

“I propose we make time for an urgent security into this matter,” he added. “Commissioners have said they are willing to give evidence.”

The chair of the meeting said a hearing on the matter would be scheduled “as quickly as possible”.

Tower Hamlets Council says it has now made nearly all changes that were agreed with the commissioners shortly after they arrived to strengthen whistleblowing processes, rebuild residents’ confidence and prevent a repeat of the wrongdoing that occurred on Rahman’s watch.

Two months ago council announced it was setting up a new team of anti-corruption investigators and was inviting people to come forward with claims relating to incidents that occurred between October 2010, when Rahman was elected, and 30 June 2016.

However, this has been dismissed as a “well packaged gimmick” by campaigner Andy Erlam, who helped bring to an end Rahman’s corrupt reign.

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