Lutfur Rahman can be described as 'extremist-backed,' rules Press Complaints Commission (but we will publish his denials)

Closely linked to Islamic extremism: Lutfur Rahman

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give a character reference to a convicted sex attacker, we failed to mention that the reference had subsequently been withdrawn.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.

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Press Complaints Commission – Lutfur Rahman adjudication

Mr Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, complained to the Press Complaints Commission that two blog postings, headlined “Lutfur Rahman councillor charged with fraud” and “Lutfur Rahman: all his controversies in one place”, published on The Daily Telegraph’s website (telegraph.co.uk) on 13 April 2011 and 20 October 2011 respectively, were inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was upheld.

The April 2011 blog reported that a Tower Hamlets councillor had been charged with fraud. As part of the posting, the article made reference to the complainant having been “accused of failing to declare substantial donations” to his campaign, “a criminal offence under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act”.

The complainant said that, following a full investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police had confirmed in February 2011 that there was no case to answer: none of the allegations was found to have breached the Act. The newspaper had not contacted the complainant to establish the outcome of the police investigation prior to publication.

The newspaper stood by the statement that the complainant had been accused of failing to declare substantial donations. The allegations had been, and continued to be, levelled against him by individuals who considered that the police investigation had been inadequate. The allegations had been reported in detail on numerous occasions by the newspaper in various blogs in September and October 2010 without complaint. While the allegation had been presented as such, the newspaper nonetheless was willing to add a statement to the post making clear that the police investigation had been concluded, and its finding was that there was no case to answer.

The second blog post sought to summarise the complainant’s first year in office, presenting a timeline of what the newspaper considered to be his “controversies”. One of the entries read as follows: “September 18 [2010]: Lutfur is accused of failing to declare thousands of pounds in donations from Shiraj Haque – a criminal offence, if true”. The complainant said that, despite being in possession of evidence that the police investigation had been concluded (by virtue of the ongoing complaint), the newspaper had failed to make clear the outcome of the matter, which would have misled readers. The newspaper offered to add a similar statement to this article, and subsequently updated each blog post to include the outcome of the investigation.

Adjudication

It was not in dispute that allegations had been made over the complainant’s disclosure of donations and that the issue had been subject to considerable scrutiny, including a police investigation. In the blog posts – which fell under the remit of the PCC owing to the fact that they were subject to editorial control – the newspaper had been wholly entitled to refer to these allegations, which were serious and a matter of public interest.

However, under the Editors’ Code, the newspaper was also required to take care not to present the allegations in a manner which would be inaccurate or misleading to readers.  This included reporting the outcome of the relevant police investigation, which had concluded in February 2011 that there was no case to answer.  The Commission considered that, by failing to include this information, readers would have been misled into believing that the investigation was ongoing. This raised a breach of Clause 1.

The Commission considered that the newspaper’s offer to update the April blog with the outcome of the police investigation was a sufficient remedy to this breach, and represented a public acknowledgement of the full position.

The case should have rested there.  However, the newspaper had then repeated the allegations in a timeline about the complainant, without reference to the conclusion of the investigation (despite having been provided with evidence of the outcome as part of the PCC complaint). This was regrettable, and preventable. The blog had made reference to the claim being “a criminal offence, if true” without any mention of the position in regard to the police investigation.  This would have clearly misled readers in breach of Clause 1.

It was the publication of this second blog that has led to the Commission finding an outstanding breach of the Code, and the complaint has been upheld on that basis.

 

*****************

Lutfur Rahman also complained that the April 2011 blog contained additional inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code.  The complaint was not upheld.

The complainant said that the headline gave the misleading impression either that he had been charged with fraud, or that he had been connected to the charges against the councillor, which was not the case. The councillor in question was independent and not part of any group. In addition, the article stated that the complainant had given a character reference for use in court to a convicted sex attacker. This was misleading as the article had failed to make clear that the complainant had subsequently withdrawn the character reference.

The complainant had raised a further concern over a description of him as “extremist-backed” and the claim that he had close links with an organisation called the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). He considered that the article implied that he was an extremist. He had repeatedly denied links with the IFE.  While it was not unusual in a borough such as Tower Hamlets to be supported by members of the IFE, this did not mean he had close links to the organisation. Allegations of these links had been made following his selection as Labour Party candidate for the Tower Hamlets’ directly-elected mayoralty, but had never been investigated or conclusively proven.

The newspaper said that the councillor who had been charged had been one of eight who had left the Labour Party in order to support the complainant. As such, it was not misleading to draw an association between them. The headline referred to a councillor – which the complainant was not – and the opening paragraphs stated that one of his “prominent supporters” had been charged with fraud. This was not misleading.

On the second point, the newspaper said that the complainant had withdrawn the character reference only after it had been used at the sentencing of the individual. He had pleaded guilty to sexual assault seven weeks earlier, and the complainant had had ample time to withdraw the reference, yet had failed to do so. Once more, the newspaper’s position was that this was not misleading.

Finally, the newspaper said that it had described the complainant in the blog as “extremist-backed” because he was “backed” by an organisation it considered to be extremist. The ideology of the IFE warranted, in its view, such a description. The newspaper had never claimed that the complainant himself was “extremist”. The newspaper said that the complainant was certainly linked to the IFE and pointed to specific examples of individuals connected to the politics of the area asserting that a relationship existed between the complainant and the IFE. Moreover, the complainant had been removed following his selection as Labour candidate for mayor owing, amongst other things, to his alleged links to the IFE. Nonetheless, the newspaper was prepared in any future blog posts on the subject to include the complainant’s denial of links to the organisation.

Adjudication

The Commission has ruled on many occasions that – owing to their brevity – headlines must be considered in the context of the article when read as a whole. Given the public support the councillor had given the complainant in the past, it was not misleading or inaccurate, in the Commission’s view, to link them in the headline. The article had made clear from the opening paragraphs that it had been the councillor and not the complainant who had been charged with fraud. The Commission did not agree that readers would be misled and did not find a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) on this point.

On the second point, there was no dispute that the complainant had withdrawn the character reference used in the court case of a man who had pleaded guilty to sexual assault. However, it was also not in doubt that it had been withdrawn after it had been used in court and the man sentenced. As the reference had been a feature of the active consideration of the case, the Commission did not consider that the omission of any mention of its later withdrawal would have significantly misled readers. This part of the complaint was not upheld.

There were some final issues to consider: the reference to the complainant being “extremist-backed”, and the claim of his links to the IFE (to which the newspaper had referred in several blog posts on the topic). The Commission was satisfied that the article at no point stated that the complainant himself was extremist, or that readers would have been misled into thinking that he was.  The claim in the article was rather that the complainant was “extremist-backed”. It was not in dispute that members of the IFE supported the complainant.

In considering whether the group could reasonably be described as “extremist”, the Commission had to have regard for the context in which the claim had been made. The article was a blog post which clearly reflected the journalist’s position on the events he reported. Readers would have been aware, not least because of the nature of the claim itself, that this represented his opinion, which may have been disputed. The newspaper had, in addition, explained the grounds for using the term to describe the IFE.   Ultimately, however, this was a matter of opinion and interpretation.   The Commission – which has not received a complaint from the IFE about the article – did not consider that it could establish that the term “extremist” was misleading.

The newspaper and the complainant held incompatible positions as to whether the complainant had “close links” to the IFE. Reference to “links”, close or otherwise, might often be disputed, as the term could be interpreted in several ways.   It was not in doubt that there had been prominent allegations of links between the complainant and the IFE at the time of his de-selection as the Labour candidate for the mayoral election. Nor was there dispute that the complainant had had contact with members of the IFE, or that members of the IFE supported him.

In these circumstances, the Commission did not consider that the term “close links” was misleading in breach of the Code. Nonetheless, given the complainant’s stance on the matter, the Commission welcomed the newspaper’s offer to include his denial of such a connection in future posts, for the benefit of its readers. This part of the complaint was not upheld.

Relevant posts are here and here.

Happy Christmas Aslef, says Ken Livingstone

There was a fascinating vignette on Ken and David Mellor’s LBC show on Saturday. Mick Whelan, the general secretary of the rail union Aslef, worked on a weekend to put the case for his downtrodden Tube drivers (they are, you’ll remember, striking on Boxing Day and three other days for triple time and extra holiday in lieu, even though they already get £45,000 and seven weeks’ holiday a year.)

Boxing Day is, of course, one of the key shopping days of the whole calendar – a day which London’s struggling retailers badly need to be a success. Gently probed by Mellor on whether it was fair for Aslef’s handsomely-rewarded members, in their totally secure jobs, to jeopardise the employment of much less well-paid shopworkers, Whelan came out with some classic phrases which deserve a wider audience.

“We see ourselves as stakeholders in London, we always have,” he said. “Most of your days off aren’t yours because of the strictures around alcohol and whatever.” You’d actually have to get utterly plastered on your last day off to fall foul of TfL’s alcohol policy – and I’m intrigued at the Aslef view that no leisure can be considered complete without large amounts of alcohol…or “whatever.”

“People don’t just give you your salary for nothing,” went on Whelan. Being a Tube driver was “one of the hardest, most responsible roles in transport.” By now, listeners across London were openly weeping at the sheer pathos of the drivers’ plight. Or perhaps they were just tears of laughter?

Second only to head of compliments at Virgin Trains, being a Tube driver is in fact the easiest job in transport. Unlike almost every other kind of transport employee, you almost never have to deal with the public. You never have to drive in traffic. You spend your whole time sitting down. The service pattern, with all the trains travelling at roughly the same speed along the same few routes, is nothing like as complicated as a surface railway. The system is substantially enclosed. You don’t even, on an increasing number of Tube lines, actually have to drive the train: it drives itself. All you do is sit in your chair and press a button to open and close the doors. A machine could do it – and in many cities, it does.

Ken, of course, wasn’t about to point this out. As the London Tory MP Jane Ellison, co-chair of the parliamentary retail group, noted today, Labour has taken £35,000 in donations from Aslef already this year, much of it for Ken’s campaign, and Ken personally has had nearly £40k from the union over the years. Ken ended the Whelan interview with a cheery message to his paymasters: “I suspect I’m not speaking for the unanimity of all Londoners,” he chortled. “But do have a good Christmas.”

I somehow think they will, Ken. Now how about getting round to the rest of us?

East London Mosque: have a happy extremist Christmas

Christmas is always a busy time down at this blog’s favourite hub of moderation’n’tolerance, the East London Mosque, controlled by the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe. The punters have to be saved from what Mahera Ruby, the head of the IFE’s women’s section, called the “pagan myth of Santa Claus.” What’s that, Mahera? You mean Santa doesn’t really exist?

Tonight, there’s a special treat (strictly gender-segregated, of course) to get the non-festive season underway. It’s the final round of the “Battle of the Isocs,” a quiz for university Islamic societies, former stamping-grounds of so many of our finest young terrorists. Among the celebrity guests (see above) is a certain Haitham al-Haddad, a big favourite at the East London Mosque. One of his previous appearances there was at an event to pronounce music a “social ill.” Haitham has also described music as a “prohibited and fake message of love and peace.” Let’s hope there aren’t any questions about last year’s Christmas Number One, shall we?

If Christmas without music sounds a bit dull, the East London Mosque has the answer. On Christmas Eve, there is a meeting about “the greatest prophet” with the IFE activist and one of Hamas’s most fervent fans, Junaid Ahmed. Then on Boxing Day the mosque hosts another event with another terrorist apologist, Zahir Mahmood. You’ve already missed, alas, the East London Mosque meeting last week about the rehabilitation of young offenders with Azad Ali, the IFE’s community affairs co-ordinator. Azad knows a bit about causing offence himself – he’s justified the killing of British troops…

Tube strikes: guess who Ken Livingstone's supporting?

Ken’s efforts to woo the “squeezed middle” took another knock today when he refused to condemn some of the chief squeezers. The Tube drivers, London’s second-greediest people, announced four one-day strikes in pursuit of their modest and reasonable claim for triple pay and time off in lieu for working on Boxing Day.

This is in addition to their current breadline salaries of £45,000 a year for a 35-hour week with seven weeks’ holiday, final-salary pensions, total job security, guaranteed future above-inflation rises bringing their pay to perhaps £52,000 by 2015, a further £1200 bribe for not striking (ie doing their jobs) during the Olympics, and all for work that would not tax the physical or mental capacities of a 12-year-old.

Ken’s silence on the issue is simply explained: he is funded by the Tube unions. Over the years he has received around £140,000 in campaign donations from them, including at least £37,500 from Aslef. They can afford it, of course. But we can’t.

 

 

Ken Livingstone book mentions Zionism more than TfL, mentions Nazis more than the NHS

Happier days for Ken

Last week, I promised you a word analysis of Livingdeath’s 720-page monster of an autobiography, You Can’t Hold That, er sorry You Can’t Say That, now I’ve got my hands on a searchable Kindle edition (just £1.99 on Amazon – down from the hardback price of £25!)

It’s quite a revealing sign of what Ken is really interested in – and it’s not always petty old London. There are, for instance, 64 mentions of “Israel” or “Israelis” in the book and 32 mentions of “Zionists” or “Zionism.”  This compares with only 30 mentions of the words “TfL” or “Transport for London,” and only 17 mentions of “NHS” or “National Health Service.”

Ken’s famous obsession with the Third Reich is on full display – there are 23 references to “Nazis” or “Nazism” and a further 16 mentions of Hitler! The count doesn’t even include many of his best-loved Nazi outbursts (his invocation of Goebbels during the ratecapping crisis and his comparison of a reporter to a “concentration camp guard” slip under the etymological wire, his statement that English Heritage’s opposition to his skyscrapers is “the biggest threat to the economy of London since Adolf Hitler” is not in the book and Ken’s typically measured comparison of Boris Johnson to the late Fuhrer came too late for inclusion.)

You can also tell what Ken would rather not talk about. The term “bendy bus” does not appear once. Socialist Action are a bunch of Trotskyites who have played a key role in Ken’s political life, supplying most of his closest advisers, including his long-standing chief of staff – but you’d never know it from this book, which gives them just one brief and bland reference. (Andy Hosken’s definitive biography of Ken devotes the whole of one chapter, and much of two more, to the sect.)

For Ken, sorry has always been the hardest word. True to form, the S-word only appears seven times in the entire 720 pages, and is only said by Ken twice, once in the context of apologising to Robert Maxwell that he doesn’t read his newspapers. On page 219 of a memoir generally devoted to proving  how he was completely right about absolutely everything, Ken almost but not quite makes history by admitting an error (he could see, he says, why people questioned his close political alliance with a serial rapist, Gerry Healy – “but I was prepared to work with anyone in the struggle against Thatcher.”)  There is also one – just the one – admission of regret. But it does relate to something Ken did in 1971!

As I mentioned in my newspaper review of the great work, Ken is also flatteringly obsessed with me and has spent happy nights scraping the recesses of the Internet for the worst lies he can find about the evil Gilligan. He is clearly an avid reader of this blog – even claiming the Telegraph has employed me especially to hound him (alas, no, Ken – I’m afraid you’re not quite that important to us.)  The poor man mentions me 52 times, which is only two times less than he mentions his own wife…

Here’s a tally of selected keywords (mentions in text only, excluding index):

Jew/ Jews/ Jewish 80

Israel/ Israeli 64

Racism/ racist 43

Wadley [Veronica Wadley, former editor of the Evening Standard] 33

Zionist/ Zionists/ Zionism  32

Transport for London/ TfL 30

Nazi/ Nazis/ Nazism 23

NHS/ National Health Service 17

Hitler 16

Lee Jasper 16

Routemaster 16

Sorry 7

Socialist Action 1

Bendy bus 0

Bye bye bendies as Boris's new Routemaster makes first appearance

Not long after midnight tonight, London’s last bendy buses, from route 207, will crawl, unmourned, into a shed somewhere near Willesden, the historic end of an error. As Boris Johnson puts it, “We bid a final, but not fond, farewell to the bendy bus. These bulky and ungainly monstrosities were always more suitable for the wide open vistas of a Scandinavian airport than for London’s narrow streets and I am glad to see the back of them.

“While it is goodbye to the bendy, it is hello to the svelte and elegant new bus for London, which will grace the capital’s streets from early next year.”

In fact, I can reveal, you won’t have to wait that long: the first open-platform Borismaster will arrive at Trafalgar Square in exactly one week’s time, before beginning revenue service on route 38 in February.

There is to be a special, Dreyfus-style bendy repudiation ceremony at Willesden depot this afternoon, at which a bus will have its TfL markings and Oyster card readers ceremonially removed in front of media witnesses. I was looking forward to being present at the execution, but alas I have had to go to Brussels for the day job (the management of the Daily Telegraph for some reason seems to think that the fate of Europe is more important than the bendy bus).

The Ken Livingstone Left’s infallible homing instinct for the most unpopular causes in London (such as calling on people to “speak for” the rioters) has today once again been deployed in defence of the bendy bus. Val Shawcross, Ken’s running-mate, claims that the Borismasters will cost £1.6 million each, and will only operate on one route. The prototypes will indeed cost about £1.6 million – prototypes are always expensive – but hundreds of these buses will be brought into service, operating on far more than one route, and the average cost of each bus will be massively less.

Shawcross has form for this sort of nonsense – in 2008, she claimed that scrapping the bendies on just the first three routes would cost £12-13 million a year. In fact, according to TfL, the cost for all 12 routes will be £302,000 a year, a drop in real terms. (There is also a one-off cost of  £2.2 million this year only.)

Even the BBC has fallen for some of the lies, claiming that the bendies’ scrapping “could mean fewer seats.” This is also untrue. There has in every route converted been more seats, usually far more, and higher frequencies as well, often dramatically higher, hence the fractionally higher annual operating cost. Isn’t it bizarre that the likes of Shawcross are actually campaigning against better bus services?

What there will be less of in some cases is that weasel word, “capacity,” in other words standing space. But who wants to stand? On the new double-deckers, far fewer people have to. The predicted capacity problems have in every case failed to materialise, probably because the thousands of fare-dodgers who used the bendies have vanished with them. Of course, the vagaries of traffic and bus operations mean that some journeys, on any kind of bus, will always be overcrowded. But overall, just as on every other bendy-converted route, passengers on the 207 from tomorrow will notice that what was an 18-hour-a-day sardine-tin becomes a less crowded and more pleasant experience.