Tower Hamlets mayor was elected after corrupt campaign, high court told

The mayor of Tower Hamlets has been accused in the high court of orchestrating a borough-wide electoral fraud using intimidation and corruption as four residents challenged the result of last May’s election.

The victory of Lutfur Rahman, Britain’s first directly elected Muslim mayor, was the result of a campaign involving illegal practices either directly or through his agents, it was alleged.

At a rare election fraud trial opening at the high court, Francis Hoar, for the residents, said Rahman and his supporters had a long history of fraud and intimidation which had been used to achieve and hold on to power.

“They don’t give a damn about the law and they don’t give a damn about due process, because they have done it before and got away with it,” Hoar said.

The four residents want the result of the May 2014 poll, in which independent Rahman was elected for a second term, declared void and the election re-run.

Evidence is expected to be outlined to theelection commissioner, Richard Mawrey QC – a senior lawyer sitting as a judge – over a number of weeks.

The case could have repercussions for May’s general election in the east end of London. A number of Labour MPs expect to face challenges from independent candidates associated with Rahman.

Directly or through people working for him, Rahman is accused of filling out other people’s ballot papers, ghost voting, ballot-paper tampering, smearing his Labour opponent as a racist, paying canvassers, intimidation and bribery.

The petitioners say Rahman has “a long history of abusing his power, inciting his supporters to intimidate his opponents, including through threats of violence, and corruptly funding organisations to promote him politically,” Hoar said.

In 2012, Rahman personally registered fake Labour party members and voters, Hoar said, with nine adult members of his family registered to vote at his terraced house in Spitalfields. Many of those registered had never lived there or moved out years before, he added.

Hoar said Rahman was also accused of making false statements about the personal character of his main rival in last May’s election, the Labour candidate John Biggs.

He also alleged undue influence by “means of spiritual influence” during the campaign and on polling day. Local imams were encouraged to tell members of the Bangladeshi community to support Rahman, with some supporters of other candidates accused of being unIslamic, the court heard. Their pronouncements had been used to cajole and control many in the local 65,000-strong Muslim community, it was alleged.

Hoar said canvassers had been paid by Rahman, that undue influence through intimidation at polling stations had occurred and claimed there was evidence of interference with voters – including in polling booths.

The petitioners, Andrew Erlam, Debbie Simone, Azmal Hussein and Angela Moffat, claim that Rahman directed council grants and property sales to his religious and political allies, with funding skewed towards Muslim organisations.

Hoar said an inquiry by PricewaterhouseCoopers into Rahman’s administration found that the council had funded free lunch clubs for the Bangladeshi and Somali communities. Witnesses will claim that they were told to keep supporting Rahman if they wished to maintain their free food, Hoar said.

The government has now appointed commissioners to take over key functions at the council after an official report found that Rahman presided over serious abuses of public money and assets.

The latest case would normally be held in Tower Hamlets but has been moved to the high court after persistent allegations that witnesses have been intimidated.

Robert Radley, a forensic document expert, has conducted electrostatic document analysis (Esda) tests on dozens of postal ballot papers marked with votes for Rahman. Radley is expected to claim that as well as the X marked in plain sight on the ballot paper itself, numerous postal ballot papers had the impressions of other Xs on them, showing that other ballot papers were filled out while resting on top of them.

Hoar said his clients aimed to call almost 100 witnesses, some of whom had reported threats of violence.

He told the court: “Unlike Sophocles, Lutfur Rahman would not ‘rather fail with honour than succeed by fraud’.”

Many of these alleged practices are illegal under the Representation of the People Act and could lead to the election being declared void and those found guilty barred from office.

Mawrey told the court that if he found allegations had been proved, he could rule that Rahman had not been declared mayor.

Rahman has denied the allegations against him, claiming that they are cynical political attacks.

The hearing continues.

Powered by article was written by Rajeev Syal, for The Guardian on Monday 2nd February 2015 14.30 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010