‘Law must protect from bankruptcy those who ousted Lutfur Rahman’ urges Tower Hamlets mayor

Lutfur Rahman at 2015 rally in Mile End after his ban

Lutfur Rahman at 2015 rally in Mile End after his ban - Credit: Archant

The mayor of Tower Hamlets whose predecessor Lutfur Rahman (pictured) was banned from office for corruption and fraud has called for a change in the law to protect election petitioners now facing bankruptcy—even after winning their High Court case.

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

Labour’s John Biggs tonight gave his backing to the four petitioners in east London facing fresh legal bills of £210,000 on top of their original costs for getting Rahman ousted from the Town Hall last year and banned for five years.

“They took great risks to restore integrity to our local democracy,” the mayor said.

“It’s entirely wrong that they are facing this scale of legal bill, despite their sacrifice and being proved right.

“The legal system should be applauding them for challenging corruption—not burdening them to the point of bankruptcy.”

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

The four, led by anti-corruption campaigner Andy Erlam, face bankruptcy at the hands of their own lawyers who are pushing them to pay up or face “recovery action”.

The election trial found Rahman and members of his Tower Hamlets First’ party guilty of “corrupt and illegal practices” of vote-rigging, bribery and faking ballot papers.

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But police still haven’t taken any criminal action—18 month on—against any of those named in court.

“It’s clear the law must be changed,” Mayor Biggs added. “It must protect election petitioners who risk everything to protect democracy—like setting a reasonable upper limit on their liability for costs.”

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

He also condemned members of Rahman’s group who remain as independent opposition members on the council after their party was removed from the register.

He said: “What offends me most is that many of the Tower Hamlets First candidates who benefitted from Rahman’s corruption are still receiving public money as councillors, while the election petitioners by contrast face crippling legal bills.”

Erlam and his three co-petitioners petitioners were praised by Judge Richard Mawrey for bringing the action when the police, Electoral Commission and political parties refused to get involved.

But then Rahman made himself bankrupt soon after and wouldn’t pay the legal bills he was liable to, which slowly mounted to an estimated £500,000.

Azmal Hussain at his vandalised Brick Lane restaurant

Azmal Hussain at his vandalised Brick Lane restaurant - Credit: Archant

The petitioners went back to court in January and got his assets frozen—three properties in Whitechapel and Bow estimated at £3.5 million.

But that only made it worse when they took on solicitors to retrieve those assets—their legal bills added another £210,000.

Azmal Hussain, one of the petitioners whose Brick Lane restaurant was vandalised by Rahman supporters during the original trial, said: “The community has benefited, but for us it’s been a nightmare.”

Debbie Simone, another petitioner, knew they faced financial ruin if they had lost—but what hit harder when “facing financial ruin by winning”.

Former Local Government Secretary Sir Eric Pickles, who published a report on election fraud last month triggered by the Rahman corruption, said the public owed the four a “debt of gratitude” getting Rahman removed. His report recommends reforms to limit the financial risk taken by people who bring legal challenges against election results.

The election that returned Rahman to office in 2014 was declared void and was re-run in 2015. Biggs defeated Rahman’s nominated protégé and regained control of Tower Hamlets for Labour after five years in opposition.