'I'm no sheriff' Tower Hamlets Mayor Biggs tells critics accusing him of not acting on £2m 'bribery' claim
PUBLISHED: 19:44 14 December 2017 | UPDATED: 08:05 15 December 2017
The embattled mayor of Tower Hamlets has fired back at critics with a smoking barrel who claim he kept the lid on an alleged £2m bribery attempt to get plans passed for a skyscraper.
An opposition cross-party campaign is calling on the Secretary of State to take over strategic planning applications away from John Biggs’ Labour administration.
The call comes two years after the alleged bribery attempt to smooth the way for a 63-storey tower on the Isle of Dogs.
A secret recording of a conversation about making possible under-the-counter payments to councillors was handed to the town hall by the developers themselves way back in 2015.
But it only came to light in a Sunday newspaper at the weekend.
“I handed the evidence to the council’s monitoring officer and chief executive immediately,” Mayor Biggs told the East London Advertiser tonight.
“It’s up to council legal officers to decide if we should go to the police—not me.
“I’m not a sheriff. I can’t conduct an investigation, which has to be carried out independently by competent and qualified people. I have to be the mayor as elected, not an investigator.”
Opposition Conservative, Lib Dem and People’s Alliance councillors held a joint news conference in Stepney yesterday calling for government-appointed audit commissioners to return to the town hall who had only just left in March after 29 months investigating malpractice under the previous Lutfur Rahman administration.
They accused the mayor—who took over when Rahman was banned from office by the High Court for malpractice—of “delaying tactics” to protect Labour.
But the mayor stood firm tonight and blamed police for “taking no action” in the time since they were handed the recording and other evidence 18 months ago.
“They have taken a year-and-a-half and appear to have done nothing,” he added. “That worries me.
“We get many complaints, but you don’t just run to your local police station every time. I acted properly.
“The job of opposition councillors is to flag up things like this—but they’re whistling in the wind.”
The council decided in April, 2016, to call in Ernst and Young auditors to carry out an independent investigation, who later recommend bringing in the Serious Fraud Office.
Evidence including the recording did not arrive until the summer of 2016, around nine months after the alleged bribery attempt. The Fraud Squad became involved in August that year, according to the council. It had been kept under wraps since so that it “wouldn’t interfere with investigations”.
Meanwhile, the planning application for the tower at Alpha Square, near Canary Wharf, was rejected by the authority’s strategic planning committee—but later over-ruled by Boris Johnson as Mayor of London. Construction starts in the New Year.