London’s police service could be investigated over its handling of allegations of electoral malpractice during the Tower Hamlets mayoral election campaign of 2014, the result of which was later quashed with the winner forced to step down.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) has said it will respond “in due course” to a letter from Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for policing and crime Sophie Linden asking it to look into alleged failings in the Met’s performance.
Earlier this month Steve O’Connell, Conservative chair of the London Assembly’s police and crime committee, wrote to Linden saying the cross-party panel’s own inquiries had left it “convinced that more could have been done to investigate the very many allegations of fraud and malpractice” that were made.
Incumbent mayor Lutfur Rahman was re-elected after the 2014 count, but a special election court later declared the outcome void having upheld complaints that Rahman and people acting as his agents had been responsible for “corrupt and illegal practices”. Rahman was banned for seeking public office for five years, but police later said they had found “insufficient evidence” to justify a criminal investigation.
A re-run mayoral election was won by Labour’s John Biggs in June 2015. It emerged last week that the last of a team of accountants sent in by the government in December 2014 to run some of the borough’s affairs will be withdrawn by the end of the month. Rahman had comfortably won the inaugural Tower Hamlet’s mayor election in 2010 after being prevented from running as Labour’s candidate by the party’s governing national executive committee.
The 200-page ruling on the 2014 contest concluded that Rahman or others involved with his campaign had engaged in the payment of canvassers, the allocation of grants in a manner that amounted to bribery, brought “undue spiritual influence” to bear on Muslim voters, cast invalid votes and falsely portrayed Biggs, who had also been Labour’s candidate in 2014, as racist. The judgment described Rahman as “almost pathologically incapable of giving a straight answer” when “faced with a straight question”.
Claims and reports of improper election conduct, including widespread casting of invalid votes, have long been a feature of Tower Hamlets politics. However, the judgment explained that while “one bogus vote” is enough to unseat a candidate “no matter how large his majority”, the court could not determine if this was “the tip of a large iceberg” or something less substantial.
Only one criminal charge has so far been brought against a 2014 Tower Hamlets election candidate – a Conservative who was seeking to become a councillor. Last May, the Telegraph apologised to a Tower Hamlets businessman and paid him damages for publishing articles which it accepted had untruthfully suggested he was “a willing beneficiary of Mr Rahman’s corruption”. The articles were principally written by Andrew Gilligan, who worked as Boris Johnson’s cycling commissioner when he was London Mayor.