Since April Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, has been pursuing a PCC campaign against the Telegraph. He has over the last eight months made four complaints, all of which were finally resolved to our satisfaction last week.
1. That we described him as “extremist-backed” by virtue of his “close links” to an extremist Islamic organisation, the Islamic Forum of Europe. Rahman claimed that he had “repeatedly and consistently denied links to the IFE.” We pointed out that he had in fact repeatedly refused to deny having links to the IFE, including here and here. We pointed out that many others in Tower Hamlets politics, including the chief coordinator of his own mayoral election campaign, Bodrul Islam, have stated his links with the extremists in terms and on the record.
The PCC rejected Rahman’s complaint, saying that to describe him as being “extremist-backed” and as having “close links” to the IFE was “not misleading.” We will continue to detail Rahman’s many links with extremism, but have agreed to start including the denials which he has recently started making.
2. That we gave the impression he had been charged with fraud in a blogpost headlined “Lutfur Rahman councillor is charged with fraud.” Rahman claimed that the article, about one of his supporters, Cllr Shelina Akhtar,could confuse people whose English was poor. As we pointed out, the very first sentences of the piece read: “One of the most prominent supporters of Tower Hamlets’ extremist-backed mayor, Lutfur Rahman, has been charged with fraud. Councillor Shelina Akhtar appears in court next month.” The piece goes on to say that “Akhtar is accused… She is charged with… She remains a member of Tower Hamlets council at the time of writing.” As we said, it is perfectly clear that the mayor was not the individual charged. His name is not Shelina Akhtar, he is not a councillor and he is not a woman.
The PCC rejected Rahman’s complaint,saying: “The article made clear from the opening paragraph that it was the councillor and not the complainant who had been charged. The Commission did not agree that readers would be misled.”
3. That in our reporting of his decision to give a character reference to a convicted sex attacker, we failed to mention that the reference had subsequently been withdrawn. We pointed out that the man, a minicab driver, had pleaded guilty to a serious sexual assault on a helpless woman passenger seven full weeks before Rahman gave his reference in court, at the sentencing hearing. Rahman withdrew the reference only once the matter got into the press, well after the man had already been sentenced. By that time it was too late to do the attacker any harm or his victim any good.
The PCC rejected Rahman’s complaint, saying: “As the reference had been a feature of the active consideration of the case, the Commission did not consider the omission of any mention of its later withdrawal would have significantly misled readers.”
4. That in our reporting of allegations from October 2010 onwards that Rahman took illegal donations, we failed to point out that a subsequent police enquiry had (in February 2011) found “no case to answer.” We pointed out that Rahman had refused to respond to our inquiries about the allegations, or to deny the allegations in other forums, when they were first made. He had subsequently started denying them, and we had reported those denials. We told the PCC (and have also reported) that the allegation was never investigated seriously (the police did not, for instance, interview several key witnesses), and that the main complainant, Tower Hamlets’ opposition leader Peter Golds, continues to make the allegations, which he and many other figures across the political spectrum believe to be true. Nonetheless, two blogposts after February 2011 made reference to the allegations without adding the police point. We offered to add the police point to the first blogpost, and have done so. We unfortunately omitted to add the police point to the second blogpost.
The PCC said that our adding the police point to the first blogpost was a “sufficient remedy,” but said it should also have been added to the second blogpost, upholding this part of the complaint. We have now added the police point to the second post.
As this blog will detail in the coming days, Rahman and his cronies have in recent months embarked on an aggressive campaign on several fronts, not just the PCC, to stifle criticism of their car-crash mayoralty. In our case, despite eight months of trying, they have comprehensively failed. We are delighted that all the key pillars of our reporting have, once again, been vindicated.