Met Police 'lacked training for criminal charges in corrupt Tower Hamlets election' says HM Inspectorate
PUBLISHED: 12:10 12 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:01 12 March 2019
Police failed to bring any criminal charges for voting fraud in the tainted 2014 Tower Hamlets election through lack of training and resources, a government inspectors' report has ruled.
The Met failed to identify evidence or even opportunities to consider charges of electoral fraud and malpractice, HM Inspectorate’s findings published today reveal.
Now the Labour mayor of Tower Hamlets, who took over from the ousted corrupt Lutfur Rahman regime that was overturned in the High Court, said today the Met’s failings had “let people off the hook”.
The Met Police set up the £1.7m ‘Operation Lynemouth’ in March 2017, with 20 detectives and staff to reinvestigate criminal offences during the 2014 election which was declared void in the High Court.
But it was already too late—the horse had bolted.
Operation Lynemouth was brought to an end in September having failed to identify evidence in time, after criticism from Tower Hamlets that police had failed to look into a raft of allegations in time, evidence which had been sent to Scotland Yard but claimed to have been ignored.
Policing the 2014 election and the later investigation “lacked oversight and coordination” and also responsibility and sufficient resources, the inspectorate report has found.
The Met “should have better explained the reasons why no-one was convicted of a criminal offence”, it said.
Commander Stuart Cundy, who came under fire at City Hall in 2017 from Tower Hamlets mayor and the-then opposition leader which led to Operation Lynmouth being set up, was accused of having ignored a raft of evidence that Tory Cllr Peter Golds held up at the hearing to show him.
Cmdr Cundy said in a statement today: “We will consider whether further action is needed to prevent failings in the future. Our own inquiry identified aspects of the original investigation where we needed to learn—this included training and briefing of police officers and making sure an accurate record is kept of all enquiries.
“The Met could have been more open with directly-affected individuals and groups.
“We have taken significant steps since 2014 to improve the system for reporting allegations of electoral fraud.”
Judge Richard Mawrey was clear in the High Court that the rules for evidence in an election court “was quite different to criminal proceedings”, the police commander insisted. The Met’s investigation “robustly considered all the evidence”, but concluded there was insufficient evidence for criminal charges.
Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs put the blame on Boris Johnson who was mayor of London at the time for failing to put enough resources into the original police investigation into voting fraud.
Mr Biggs said: “Today’s Inspectorate report makes clear that a lack of serious attention under Boris Johnson meant the investigation was under-resourced and uncoordinated. It missed lines of enquiry and had to be reinvestigated years later.”
He added: “Sadly we may now never know what evidence was missed at the time which could have been crucial in prosecuting those responsible.
“People were rightly appalled at how Lutfur Rahman’s cronies stole an election. No stone should have been left unturned by the police investigating how democracy was subverted.
“These failings have let people off the hook.”
The police chief came under fire at the City Hall hearing from Tower Hamlets Tory former group leader Peter Golds who held up a raft of witness statements that had been sent to Scotland Yard which he said had been ignored.
Cllr Golds said today: “The police had been warned about electoral malpractice in 2006, 2010 and after the now-notorious Spitalfields by-election in 2012.
“Evidence was repeatedly sent to them before, during and after elections which was simply ignored.”
Policing the 2014 election and the later investigation “lacked oversight and co-ordination”, today’s report stresses.
Cllr Golds added: “Officers were placed at polling stations with no idea what was expected. The election was a disgrace with the police unable to guarantee the safety of those inside polling stations, let alone deal with the obvious malpractice taking place in full view.”
Anti-corruption campaigner Andy Erlam, whose election petition to the High Court overturned the corrupt election and got Rahman banned from office, called today’s findings “a whitewash” which has left the guilty to go free.
The Met, however, is still undertaking “one outstanding line of enquiry”, according to the Inspectorate’s report, while City of London Police are “investigating potential financial fraud”.