Government minister Grant Shapps calls for Tower Hamlets ‘electoral fraud’ probe

The row over election fraud in London’s East End has blown up again with Local Government Minister Grant Shapps calling for an inquiry into Tower Hamlets Electoral Roll.

His move comes after fresh allegations surfaced that addresses are being used fraudulently to register bogus voters in time for the London Mayor election in 10 weeks’ time.

“This appears to be a deeply-concerning situation,” the Minister said. “There must be an immediate investigation to get to the bottom of this.”

The electoral rigging scandal has hit Tower Hamlets politics three times in six years, involving the last two General Elections and the election for its first executive mayor.

Police called at 88 suspect addresses in one investigation alone, following the 2010 election for mayor, it has emerged. The Town Hall removed 141 suspect names from the register—but 5,166 new names were received before the election deadline, with little time to check them out.

Inquiries have also been carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Electoral Commission.

Calls for a fresh inquiry have also come today (Wed) in a joint statement by East End MPs Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick, Tower Hamlets Council’s Labour Opposition group leader Joshua Peck and London Assembly member John Biggs.

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Mr Biggs told The Docklands & East London Advertiser: “We need an urgent investigation into these allegations so the public can trust the voting process in May. Police also need to take an interest.”

The call from the Local Government Minister for an inquiry was sparked by complaints to Downing Street from Tower Hamlets Tory Opposition group leader Peter Golds, who is demanding “a full and proper investigation to maintain the integrity of our electoral system.”

Police carried out four separate inquiries after Labour’s deselected candidate Lutfur Rahman won the election for Tower Hamlets Mayor as a rebel independent in October, 2010.

Police called at 88 addresses after the election. A 33-year-old man was arrested at his home in Whitechapel, concerning alleged electoral fraud, Scotland Yard confirmed today.

He appeared before Westminster magistrates last November, where he denied breaching the 1983 Representation of the People Act, and has been summonsed for trial in April.

The Advertiser’s own research found the 158,549 voters on the books in September, 2009, had shot up more than 6,000 by the following April—a month before the 2010 General and local elections.

Another thousand names had been added by Polling Day itself, now totalling 171,870.

The Electoral Commission has since been told of six addresses in Bromley-by-Bow with suspect listings—a house in Rainhill Way with 13 voters registered, another with eight, while four flats in Limscott House had 33 voters listed between them.

Tower Hamlets council has refuted press allegations that voter fraud is rife in the East End.

“All allegations are referred to the police for investigation,” said a Town Hall spokesman.

“We have taken measures to prevent this issue. Electoral registers are by definition out of date—people move away, but don’t have to tell us.”

Multiple registrations at single addresses was put down to the East End’s severe overcrowding.

“We have many families of several generations living in overcrowded accommodation,” the spokesman added. “Some private rented housing was being used on a ‘shift’ basis for large numbers of people.”

The Town Hall insists it rigorously checks suspicious registrations and, where necessary, takes people off the register. Its electoral inspectors call at properties with more than eight registrations.

The first time vote-rigging allegations surfaced was in the 2006 General Election when George Galloway won Bethnal Green & Bow from Labour.

His Respect Party complained of Labour ‘vote rigging’ to police.

More allegations were made four years later during the 2010 General and local elections in May and the Mayor election that October.

“We raised song and dance about it,” Respect’s Tower Hamlets organiser Rob Hoveman told the Advertiser this week.

“The registration system is riddled with potential for corruption. We gave evidence to a police inquiry—but the people we spoke to on the doorstep during canvassing wouldn’t come forward and make statements.”

Galloway lost in 2010 when he came in third at Poplar & Limehouse behind Labour and Conservative—by such a large margin that Respect conceded any electoral rigging would have made no difference.

Where it would have counted, it maintains still, is in marginal wards in local elections where a handful of votes could tip the balance.