Anti-corruption ‘public inquiry’ launched to expose Tower Hamlets council affairs

Anti-corruption fighter Andy Erlam

Anti-corruption fighter Andy Erlam - Credit: Archant

Anti-corruption campaigner Andy Erlam is opening a ‘public inquiry’ into the affairs of Tower Hamlets council next month in the wake of Lutfur Rahman’s disqualification as Mayor by the High Court.

Tower Hamlets Council and (inset) ex-mayor Lutfur Rahman

Tower Hamlets Council and (inset) ex-mayor Lutfur Rahman - Credit: Archant

The writer and film-maker, who ran for Mayor in the re-run-election in June after Rahman was barred from office, is backed by an independent, non-party organisation set up to “root out corruption of all kinds and fight for justice” in London’s East End.

But he admits the inquiry “will not have powers to compel witnesses to attend or for documents to be produced”.

Its high-profile panel of lawyers, community leaders and other experts, however, is likely be influential with its public scrutiny.

Terms of reference are yet to be agreed, but likely to include investigations into alleged fraud and maladministration.

Tower Hamlets new mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets new mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

They take in the Town Hall itself—which had commissioners sent in last December by the-then Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to go through the books after five years of Rahman’s “closed doors” administration.

Erlam’s inquiry is to hear concerns about land deals between the council and certain individuals, as well as looking at allegations of police “corruption and poor service”. Voluntary and housing agencies, many having received hand-outs from Rahman, also come under scrutiny.

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The wide-ranging brief Erlam gives himself also takes in “organised child abuse” where the inquiry will “leave no stone unturned”. The aim is to expose truth, obtain justice and push for reforms.

One victim of the Rahman era was Labour’s candidate for mayor John Biggs, defeated at the original 2014 polls which were later declared void by the High Court over malpractice and intimidation.

Biggs went on to win June’s re-run election against Rahman’s nominated candidate Rabina Khan in which Erlam was also heavily defeated.

But Erlham, undeterred, is going ahead with his ‘public inquiry’ as promised in his own election campaign.

The public is being urged to contact the inquiry’s secure postbox address for Tower Hamlets Election Petition Ltd, at 27 Old Gloucester Street, Bloomsbury, including anonymous information in confidence.

Meanwhile, Mayor Biggs has set up his own Tower Hamlets commission to make the Town Hall more accountable after the Rahman years, announced at last month’s council meeting.

It comes in the wake of controversial grants to certain organisations and how executive decisions were made in the authority’s £1.2 billion budget—which led to Rahman’s downfall in the High Court in April.

The new commission has already begun work to “ensure no decision-maker can ever evade public scrutiny again”.

It is to take evidence over the coming months from journalists, the Mayor himself, council officers and other interested parties.