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Report slams Tower Hamlets Council’s ‘inadequate’ election planning

PUBLISHED: 00:05 01 July 2014 | UPDATED: 09:25 01 July 2014

Police outnumbered by crowds outside Stepney's Troxy where the count for Mayor was held. Photo: David Mirzoeff

Police outnumbered by crowds outside Stepney's Troxy where the count for Mayor was held. Photo: David Mirzoeff

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Tower Hamlets Council has been slammed by a government watchdog over its running of the local elections, in a report that calls the council’s planning “inadequate”.

The Electoral Commission, which helped write the council’s tough new election protocol for the poll, says staff and others were denied access to the election count for two and a half hours.

It also says the number of staff available to count the votes was “insufficient” and that council Returning Officer John Williams’s timetable would not have worked even without the massive delays.

The report comes ahead of an emergency by-election in Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward on Thursday, which was triggered by the sudden death by heart attack of Tower Hamlets First candidate Hifzur Rahman a day before of the local election.

Electoral Commission officers announced they will observe every polling station during the by-election on July 3 and also attend the count itself.

Jenny Watson, chair of the EC, said: “With the May 2015 general election fast approaching, it is vital that everyone involved in the elections in Tower Hamlets learn from the experience of the 2014 elections so voters and campaigners in Tower Hamlets can have confidence in the administration of future election counts.

“We will be monitoring the Returning Officer’s response closely over the coming months and if we are not satisfied that sufficient progress has been made by September 2014 we will make clear what more needs to be done.”

The EC’s review was launched in early June to find out why the Tower Hamlets election count dragged on for five days.

A spokesman said its report was written so as not to prejudice a High Court petition filed by residents to try to overturn the result of the mayoral election, which saw Lutfur Rahman elected to a second term.

Police are now conducting 10 investigations relating to the elections following two new complaints, bringing the total received by the police to 86, most of which the police say lacked evidence of criminality.

A 24-year-old has been arrested and bailed on suspicion of postal vote fraud after officers found his car boot was full of completed postal vote applications during a routine search.

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