Commission cuts returning officer’s fees for Tower Hamlets’ tainted election

Former returning officer John Williams (inset) at Tower Hamlets Council

Former returning officer John Williams (inset) at Tower Hamlets Council - Credit: Archant

The returning officer overseeing last year’s tainted elections for Tower Hamlets council and mayor and the local count for the EU Parliament has had his fees slashed after a scathing judgement by the Electoral Commission.

Its judgement on John Williams—held back a year because of ex-Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s malpractice scandal that rocked the Town Hall—found that he did not meet performance standards.

The Commission blamed “inadequate resources” for verifying and counting ballot papers.

“Delivering verification and count was severely delayed,” a Commission statement said. “But it did achieve an accurate result in a transparent manner.”

The electorate having confidence that their votes will be counted in the way they intended was not met, the findings reveal. Candidates standing for election also did not have confidence in the results, nor that the counting was well-managed.

But John Williams did meet the Commission’s performance standards at the 2014 election for mayor that was won by Rahman—although this was later overturned in the High Court.

He agreed with the Commission’s assessment and a reduction in fees for the EU poll, taking a cut of £1,105 from his £8,843 fee, a 12.5 per cent reduction.

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The Commission delayed its findings until after the High Court judgement against Rahman, which banned him from office in April for five years.

The probe over how the 2014 election was managed—with its voter intimidation and postal ballots being intercepted and scammed—followed complaints led by the Tory Opposition on the council.

They wrote to the Commission about “the embarrassing count” following the decision to use the “inadequate” Mile End leisure centre and Troxy venue.

Group leader Peter Golds’ letter said: “This borough and its electoral failures became an international joke with the President of the European Parliament commenting that one single local authority was holding up the election result.”

Cllr Golds had already pointed out that failures in the 2009 count also led to a long delay for the London result in that year’s EU polls “caused by an unsuitable venue and non-transparent and complicated counting system”.

But these failed systems and venues were used again in 2014 “with even more embarrassing consequences”.

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