Tower Hamlets councillors storm out over vote to cooperate with police probing corrupt Lutfur Rahman election
PUBLISHED: 13:29 23 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:29 24 November 2017
A storm erupted at last night's Tower Hamlets Council meeting which called on members to cooperate with police investigating the corrupt 2014 election for mayor.
Some councillors walked out—claiming “defamation” and with a threat of legal action against the authority.
The overturned election led to Lutfur Rahman being banned from office by the High Court over voting fraud and malpractice and also to his Tower Hamlets First party being removed from the register.
But the rump of the banned party remains on the council—rebranded as the Independent Group.
Its nine members stormed out when the authority’s legal monitoring officer advised the Speaker to reject their amendment to the call for cooperation with the police, which mentioned legal proceedings against the council.
The Independent group’s amendment—seen by the East London Advertiser—was hurriedly withdrawn from the council chamber after the official, Asmat Hussain, who told councillors to turn off their mobile phones and not to record her, advised the meeting: “The amendment brings into account professional integrity of me as monitoring officer. Secondly it’s in contemplation of litigation (which) clearly states that you intend to take against the council.”
The Speaker, Sabina Akhtar, had to suspend the debate as the Independents left the chamber en mass and urged them: “If you are leaving, please leave quietly,” then added: “Members, stop shouting across the room.”
She told the remaining councillors after the walk-out: “We must refrain from phrases such as ‘corrupted’, ‘elected’.”
But that didn’t stop Labour’s Khales Udine Ahmed using the ‘C’ word about the 2014 election.
“Those corruptly elected should be ashamed of themselves,” Cllr Ahmed told the meeting. “I saw myself in 2014 how the election for mayor and councillors was stolen and was subjected to a smear campaign against me and my wife by a candidate in my ward.
“Anyone who has broken the law should be prosecuted. I am ready to give evidence based on what I witnessed.”
The Independents’ rejected amendment claimed defamation lawyers acting for a member of the group was serving a legal notice on a senior council official and that the motion for cooperation with Scotland Yard was “defamatory and unlawful”.
Fresh investigations into the corrupt elections could finally result in criminal prosecutions four years on, a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary now concludes—revealed exclusively by the Advertiser last month.
The original investigation “failed to secure evidence” which led to the Met Police coming in for a scathing attack at City Hall last February.
Judge Richard Mawrey’s election judgement in the High Court in 2015 condemning Rahman’s malpractice was also being challenged in the rejected amendment. It quoted a Divisional Court judgement on Lutfur Rahman’s judicial review application, stating: “We do not consider it arguable that the statements or conclusions of Commissioner Mawrey amount to an imputation of criminal liability.”
But the amendment was barred and Labour and Tory councillors voted unanimously in the absence of the Independent group to cooperate with Scotland Yard’s Operation Lynemouth. The Fraud Squad is now reconsidering 10 matters from the original failed investigation “which could have resulted in criminal prosecutions”.
"I saw myself in 2014 how the election was stolen and was subjected to a smear campaign against me and my wife "
Labour’s resolution, with Conservative amendments, refers to the court judgement that “the election of all Tower Hamlets First councillors must be taken to have been achieved with the benefit of the corrupt and illegal practices.”
It makes a scathing attack on ex-mayor Rahman’s former backbenchers who continue on the council: “Many who were elected as Tower Hamlets First still serve on the council in the Independent Group and the People’s Alliance, including two potential candidates for mayor, and remain in denial about the corrupt regime which they were part of.
“All councillors have a personal responsibility to address the failures and criminality of the Lutfur Rahman administration. A majority accept this—a sizeable minority clearly do not.”
The Independent group after the debate insisted that none of its members were elected corruptly and were not against any police investigation.
John Biggs, who won back control of the town hall as executive mayor for Labour in the 2015 election re-run, and Tory opposition group leader Peter Golds both addressed a London Assembly special committee last February in which the Met Police came under fire for having taken no action following the High Court ruling against the corrupt Rahman administration.
Scotland Yard’s Fraud Squad had looked at fraud, bribery, perjury and tax evasion during the original investigation—but made no arrests. Its Operation Lynemouth has now identified “potential evidential opportunities”.