Police launch investigation into Tower Hamlets election fraud and corruption
PUBLISHED: 09:38 05 May 2015 | UPDATED: 13:11 06 May 2015
New evidence has emerged from 47 allegations originally reported to police about election malpractice in the 2014 polls which re-elected Lutfur Rahman as mayor of Tower Hamlets.
Scotland Yard has now appointed a detective superintendent from the Homicide and Major Crime Command to take charge of a study of the 200-page High Court report following a six-week election petition hearing which ousted Rahman.
But Anti-corruption campaigner Andy Erlam, the man who brought the now-discredited mayor down, is calling for the investigation to include council spending, following auditors’ report before Christmas looking into how grants were distributed, in addition to investigations into the 2014 elections.
Five new allegations of election fraud which had not been previously reported to police have been identified in the High Court judgment released on April 23, Scotland Yard announced on Friday. Four of those are now being assessed to see if a criminal investigation should be carried out.
The Special Enquiry team applied on Friday for an extension to the time limit for criminal proceedings to be brought, “due to the exceptional circumstances of this case”, which has been granted.
Criminal proceedings under the 1983 Representation of the People Act must be started within one year of the offence, unless an extension is granted.
“We received 164 complaints of electoral malpractice in Tower Hamlets in the lead up to, during and after the election last May,” a Scotland Yard spokesman revealed. “Every allegation reported to police was recorded and investigated to understand if any criminal offences had been committed.”
The Met supplied material to Crown prosecutors about four original allegations. Now a fifth claim has been added to the investigations.
The High Court election commissioner, Judge Richard Mawrey, cleared council staff of all allegations of election fraudulent practice.
But Erlam, the independent running for mayor in the re-run election on June 11, is now demanding the investigation extends to town hall spending following the audit last November into council spending by PriceWaterhouse Coopers.
Conservatives at Tower Hamlets have also written to Scotland Yard calling for an investigation, revealed by the Advertiser last month.
Tory Group leader Peter Golds said any Scotland Yard investigation should go further than just election fraud and look into “shady deals” when public assets were sold off cheaply.
Government-appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers forensic auditors in November scrutinised 185 town hall property disposal transactions.
A Town Hall spokesman revealed: “They identified some process and governance issues that needed to be improved—but no evidence of criminality or fraud. There was no evidence to suggest that process issues were ‘regular or endemic’.”
Commissioners were later appointed by Eric Pickles to supervise all major property disposals, following the audit, to make sure subsequent property transactions complied with the authority’s statutory duties.
Andy Erlam, meanwhile, welcomed Scotland Yard’s latest move over election fraud.
“At last the Met Police have swung into action,” he added. “Now that Eric Pickles has grasped the nettle, I’m delighted the Met has too.”
Scotland Yard this week pledged to protect “the integrity of the democratic process” for Thursday’s general election across London and for the re-run election for Tower Hamlets mayor on June 11, with additional officers on duty at polling stations.