Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, is a worried man today. As I reported in this morning’s paper, the Government finally appears to be gearing up for a full investigation into his incredible regime, the subject of a broadcast by the BBC’s Panorama tonight.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, tells the programme that the allegations against Lutfur are of “a completely different magnitude to the worries and concerns that I have with other councils” and accuses him of “abusing his position”.
He added in a statement to the Telegraph: “There is a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and mismanagement of council staff and resources by the mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets. I will be carefully examining the evidence provided by Panorama’s thorough investigation and will consider the appropriate next steps, including the case for exercising the legal powers available to me.”
Lutfur, the former Labour council leader, was replaced, deselected and subsequently expelled by the Labour Party after I revealed his close links to an Islamic extremist organisation, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), which believes in turning Europe into an Islamic state under sharia law. He was subsequently elected mayor as an independent.
As we have catalogued in the paper and on this blog, Lutfur has channelled millions of pounds in council grants to IFE front organisations and to close colleagues and associates, often at the expense of established, secular groups serving the whole community.
Panorama found that Lutfur, who has taken personal control over council grants, had repeatedly overruled his own council officers and given Bengali- and Somali-run organisations two and a half times more money than the officers recommended.
In a memo leaked to the programme, Tower Hamlets’ head of environmental legal services, Jill Bell, warned the council was “vulnerable to legal challenge” after Lutfur and his allies added 94 extra grants, “a number of which were ineligible” under the council’s own rules. Ms Bell’s is now leaving her Tower Hamlets job.
Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, told the BBC that the degree of “material change” which Lutfur exercised over the officer recommendations was “very unusual.”
The desperation that Panorama has caused in Camp Rahman is gigantic – and possibly just as revealing as anything likely to be in the programme itself. Lutfur’s attempts to stymie the broadcast are a whole story of their own. He hired a law firm and PR specialists to try to stop it. He’s produced an expensively-produced counterattack film (did public money pay for that, I wonder?) and making predictable charges of racism and Islamophobia.
Most interestingly of all, in their fight against the BBC, he and his staff have been using confidential programme research material removed from the Panorama computers by a freelance they hired for a few days who then defected to the Rahman camp. Lutfur is claiming, entirely falsely, that the Beeb is under “criminal investigation” over this material. Shouldn’t it be Team Lutfur and the researcher who are under criminal investigation?
The tactics are familiar to any of us who report on Rahman – endless bullying threats and complaints, shameless playing of the race card, straightforward lying and denial of reality – but, as I have also found, they can be seen off easily enough if you have done your reporting properly. The programme goes out tonight at 8.30pm.
Many of its themes are likely to be familiar to readers of this blog (though I’ve had no involvement in the making of the film) but it is significant, and might possibly be a turning-point, that an organisation with the BBC’s clout is finally taking notice of this scandal.
Welcome back to the blog, by the way. I went quiet for a while because I have less time than I used to, but you will be hearing from me more over the next few months.
For a full account of Lutfur’s remarkable career to 2013, click here.