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High Court: ‘Bullying’ at Tower Hamlets council, claims ex-official

PUBLISHED: 11:21 19 February 2015 | UPDATED: 11:50 19 February 2015

Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman and supporters campaigning last year in Stepney. Picture: Isabel Infantes

Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman and supporters campaigning last year in Stepney. Picture: Isabel Infantes

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A senior council official told a High Court judge of “bullying” and a “very intimidating atmosphere” at Tower Hamlets Council.

Panorama and audit

- Ms Cohen said she was a source for BBC Panorama: The Mayor and Your Money.
- Its broadcast in April 2014 was followed by the launch of a government-backed audit of council finances.

- The audit was conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and ordered by local government secretary Eric Pickles.

- It reported in November that the council “failed to provide best value” for taxpayers in its grant allocations, public relations, and selling of public buildings.

- The Mayor accused the Panorama programme of “racism”, spending tens of thousands on lawyers and writing to the BBC director general in a bid to stop its broadcast.

- He and the council said the audit had found no evidence of fraud and any problems highlighted were already being addressed.

Deborah Cohen, who was the council’s service head for commissioning and strategy for five years, yesteray described the working culture as one of “fear and uncertainty”.

She was giving evidence at an Election Court trial where four residents are looking to overturn the results of last May’s elections.

They accuse Mayor Lutfur Rahman, who was re-elected to a second term, of “electoral fraud”, though the Mayor denies all wrongdoing.

Ms Cohen, who left the council late last year, said she had felt “very intimidated” when “summonsed” to a meeting with Mr Rahman and two councillors in late 2013.

She said she witnessed a councillor speaking to a senior member of the legal department in a “bullying and intimidating manner”.

“I felt there was a very intimidating atmosphere,” said Ms Cohen, in a written witness statement. “These are just some examples.

“They all combined to create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty and a need not to put one’s head above the parapet.”

And she told election commissioner Mr Mawrey, acting as judge for the hearings, when being questioned by lawyers: “The atmosphere in the council was one I found to be a very frightening and intimidating atmosphere.”

Ms Cohen said she had been a source for a BBC Panorama programme about Mr Rahman that aired in April last year.

She added that she did not want the Mayor “or his associates” to know her home address.

The hearing continues.


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