Tower Hamlets spent £37k on lawyers over Panorama on Lutfur Rahman

Mayor Lutfur Rahman

Mayor Lutfur Rahman - Credit: Archant

EXCLUSIVE: Tower Hamlets Council spent almost £37,000 of public money on legal advice over a Panorama investigation into Mayor Lutfur Rahman, the Advertiser can reveal.

Legal firm Taylor Wessing was hired by the council over the proposed BBC report, broadcast on March 31, which alleged the mayor gave extra funding to Bangladeshi charities to buy influence - a claim he denies.

The council told the Advertiser it has been billed £36,992 by the firm up to February 28 for working to ensure the programme did not unduly influence the mayoral elections.

This work included sending a dossier of leaked Panorama documents to the BBC to argue the programme breached its editorial guidelines, and asking the BBC whether the programme could be broadcast “at all in view of the forthcoming election”.

Conservative Cllr Peter Golds called the news “absolutely outrageous”.

He said: “The taxpayers of Tower Hamlets have a right to know what is going on, and I don’t think they will be very impressed that the council spent £37,000 of their own money to keep them in the dark.”

The leak of documents by a researcher on the programme, which included its confidential sources, is being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the government data protection watchdog, to see if it broke the law.

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Mayor Rahman announced the leak the day before the programme aired, claiming it proved the programme was “racist and Islamophobic” and politically biased.

A council spokesman said: “There was no in-house legal experience or capacity to deal with issues of journalistic standards and editorial compliance, so suitably experienced external legal firms were approached to pitch for the work, and Taylor Wessing were selected.

“Taylor Wessing interviewed the whistle-blower and considered her position to be legitimate so copied the dossier to the BBC so that it could consider her misgivings about the fairness and approach of the proposed programme.”

The BBC went ahead with the programme and has defended its integrity and accuracy.