Lutfur Rahman's Muslim favouritism: the evidence

Lutfur Rahman (Photo: PA)

Over the next few weeks, this blog will be setting out in detail the truth about Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, and the full evidence against him. I should stress that, over the last four years, all our material about Lutfur and his extremist allies has survived literally hundreds of complaints to Ofcom and the Press Complaints Commission.

Rahman’s supporters make two main defences: first, that in the words of the Guardian’s Dave Hill, “if Rahman has sinned, how many others are doing so all day, every day in ways that, in the end, differ if at all only in the means and detail?”

To the contrary, this series of blog posts will show that what is happening in Tower Hamlets is on a completely different plane from normal political behaviour. (What is it with Dave, who has embarrassing form as Ken Livingstone’s chief media poodle? Has he some psychological need to act as a public excuse-maker for the least scrupulous politicians he can find?)

The second defence, inevitably, is to claim that all scrutiny of Rahman is racist – again, without any factual basis. Instead, as I show below, it is Rahman who is practising racial and religious favouritism and it is his ethnicity that has saved him from scrutiny. Any council led by a white politician responsible for even half of what Tower Hamlets has done would by now have been picked apart by the media and placed under official investigation. But many journalists and officials are afraid of being branded racist for criticising Rahman.

Finally, however, following the BBC’s Panorama on Rahman this week, it looks as if the dam is breaking. A Government investigation is now looking extremely likely. In the days ahead, I will describe the kind of things it should be about.

We start today with the evidence which shows how the Rahman adminstration’s grant-giving in many areas strongly favours Muslim groups, even though their presence in the borough is actually falling.

First, some facts about the ethnic and faith makeup of Tower Hamlets. According to the 2011 census, its largest single ethnic group is white – 45.2 per cent of the population. Bangladeshis make up 32 per cent – down from 33.4 per cent in 2001. Muslims make up 34.5 per cent of Tower Hamlets people – again down, from 36.4 per cent in 2001.

You wouldn’t know this from the makeup of Lutfur Rahman’s ruling cabinet, which is 100 per cent Bangladeshi and Muslim, or from his grants. In 2012, the council changed its policy to ensure that “the decisions for all awards over £1,000 were to be made by the Mayor under his executive authority”.

After that time, as both the BBC and I have catalogued, there was a clear diversion of funding away from secular bodies serving the whole community to faith-based or religious groups serving only sections of the community. As councillors on Tower Hamlets’ cross-party scrutiny committee put it, “new, untested organisations with no track record of delivering for the community” suddenly sprang up, paid substantial sums for often ill-defined projects. As I will describe in future posts, several of these very well-funded new projects appear to be based in people’s private homes. Several involve individuals with close personal connections to Lutfur Rahman.

There are a number of grants programmes with which we will deal in turn.

Community faith buildings support scheme

This is a new £2 million fund invented by Lutfur Rahman to pay money to religious buildings. No other council in Britain does this, or anything like it.  Of the first £600,000 awarded, the only round announced so far, £388,000 (64 per cent) went to Muslim faith buildings.

Some places got grants without even having to say what they wanted them for – for instance, the Bow Muslim Cultural Centre got £10,000 for work simply described as “to be confirmed.”  Let’s hope they think of something to spend it on soon, shall we?

Many of the recipients were in no need whatever – such as the East London Mosque, which got £10,000 for “professional fees” even though it has an income of more than £1 million a year. The East London Mosque is the home of Lutfur’s key backers, the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), whose front organisations have received millions from the council under various programmes.

Community events and community chest schemes

Rahman has created funds that organise pre-election events and reward his supporters and potential supporters with public money. Of the £593,512 granted, at least £327,645 (55 per cent) has gone to Muslim organisations.

Grants (listed here and here) included a total of £37,195 to several groups closely associated with the IFE. A further £32,500 of public money has been paid to UK-based Bengali-language newspapers, media organisations and TV stations – influential with Rahman’s electorate – which have given the mayor fawning coverage.

Other grants included £1,800 to an Islamic religious teachers’ organisation for its annual day out to the Isle of Wight and £1,500 for a “festival of sneakers.” Someone else has bought themselves a coffee machine on the public dime. In a number of other cases, as with the faith grants, the council hasn’t troubled even to agree what it is paying for before it hands out the dough.

Rahman’s own officers and the council’s cross-party overview and scrutiny committee strongly objected to several of the awards, but the mayor brushed them aside, saying (in a written decision – he’s refused to answer any questions on the issue) that “although officers may come to the view that an application is poor and/or that it should not receive funding, there are from time to time cases where, when taking account of wider circumstances, projects are worth supporting in view of the perceived potential community benefits” (Page 5 of this PDF).

At its meeting on 7 January, members of the overview and scrutiny committee said that the grants were “not benefiting the Borough as a whole” but were “being directed to certain areas in the west of the borough where the Mayor had the majority of his vote.” The Bengali areas, they meant. Two maps, published by the committee, of the chosen locations for the grants make this favouritism starkly clear.

The pre-existing, and much larger, “mainstream grants” programme, too, has been changed to favour Rahman’s client groups, as the council’s own documents admit. Several key elements of the programme are affected. The full list of grants is here.

Older people’s lunch club programme

Of the £907,180 given to run lunch clubs for residents over 50, £515,280 (57 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations, to lunch clubs described by the council as exclusively for Bangladeshis or Somalis, or to clubs which from their own publicity are aimed at an exclusively Muslim clientele.

As the council’s own equality impact assessment admits (p5 of PDF), 22 out of the 34 lunch clubs funded (65 per cent) are targeted at ethnic minorities, even though 60 per cent of the borough’s over-50s are white and only 23 per cent are Bangladeshi. There was an increase of nine ethnic minority-only lunch clubs from the previous funding round, and “a reduction in lunch clubs for the general population, which primarily impacts the white British, Irish and non-Bangladeshi or Somali ethnic minority population”.

Community and economic engagement

Of the £1,235,000 in grants for community and economic engagement, £858,500 (70 per cent) went to Muslim organisations. Beneficiaries included the IFE front, the Osmani Trust, which received £80,000.

Children, schools and families

Of the £526,000 in grants for children, schools and families, £334,500 (64 per cent) went to Muslim organisations. Beneficiaries included two IFE fronts, the London Muslim Centre and the Osmani Trust, which received a total of £140,000.

As the council’s own documents admit (p3 of PDF), “this funding stream primarily supports Bangladeshi and other BAME [ethnic minority] communities.”

Study support

Of the £207,850 allocated in grants for study support schemes, £130,750 (63 per cent) went to Muslim organisations.

Mother tongue classes

Of the £313,486 in grants for mother tongue lessons, £296,016 (94 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations. The neighbouring secular borough of Newham spends money on teaching recent immigrants to speak English. Lutfur’s Tower Hamlets spends money on teaching people not to speak English.

Youth and Connexions services

Of the £667,000 in grants for youth and “connexions” (career advice) services, £437,500 (66 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations. Beneficiaries included the IFE front, the Osmani Trust, which received £130,000.

Lifelong learning

Of the £156,000 for lifelong learning, £87,000 (57 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations.

In only a handful of programmes in the grants portfolio, mainly those handed out under national guidelines such as the early years nursery grants, do Muslim groups not take the lion’s share of the funding.

It may be argued that Bangladeshis, in particular, are a poor community who need more help than others. They do – but in the past, as is still the case elsewhere in east London, that help was provided by long-established secular organisations with a strong track record of delivering for all communities, not organised into faith or race silos and not operating out of individuals’ private homes.

 

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Tower Hamlets: the Met's new phone-hacking?

 

Older readers will remember how that brilliantly successful organisation, the Metropolitan Police, satisfied itself that no widespread phone-hacking could possibly have occurred at the News of the World. They simply refused to investigate seriously, doing just enough to enable them to claim that they had looked into it but failing to follow obvious leads and neglecting to interview key witnesses.

It looks like something similar is now happening in respect of persistent allegations of postal vote fraud in Tower Hamlets, run by the extremist-linked mayor, Lutfur Rahman (above). At every major election in the borough in the last eight years, including before Lutfur took power, well-documented allegations of fraud have been made by very large numbers of people: many journalists (including me) and dozens of councillors from all parties (including some who now support Rahman). I myself have spoken on the record to plenty of victims, all named in my various stories. The response of the police has nearly always been the same – inadequate investigations followed by a clean bill of health.

Today the Electoral Commission publishes its report into the dozens of allegations of postal vote fraud and irregularity, some made by me, at the April 19 2012 byelection in Tower Hamlets’ Spitalfields ward, only a fortnight before the mayoral election in May. And the pattern of previous inadequate investigation appears to be repeating itself.

The byelection was narrowly won by Lutfur’s candidate (and former election agent and paid Tower Hall adviser) Gulam Robbani, a man with close connections to Lutfur’s extremist backers at the East London Mosque and no stranger to questionable paperwork (Freedom of Information requests show that Robbani appears to have massively overcharged the taxpayer for his Town Hall services.)

Here are some interesting facts about the Lutfur man’s win. Despite heavy rain throughout polling day, turnout (31 per cent) was extremely high for a council byelection (the previous byelection in the same ward, sixteen months before, had seen a turnout of 17 per cent). Only 14 per cent of people in Tower Hamlets at the time had postal votes – but 36 per cent of the votes cast at the Spitalfields byelection were postal. And that’s after 135 postal ballot papers were rejected by the counters, mainly because of doubts over their authenticity. Robbani’s margin of victory, by the way, was 43 votes.

Allegations of postal vote fraud and irregularity centred on, among other places, a council block called Brune House, in Bell Lane. In the two weeks between March 16 and April 4 (the deadline for registering for the byelection) the number of postal voters in this property more than doubled, from 34 to 71.  Fifty-five of those 71 postal votes were actually cast in the byelection – a turnout of 77 per cent. How did this run-down block turn into such a beacon of electoral participation and political involvement? Through a practice known as “vote-harvesting.”

I went from door to door in Brune House on polling day. The son of a resident in the block told me: “My mother normally votes down at the polling station but Gulam Robbani supporters came and got my mother to sign up for a postal vote. After the ballot paper arrived, this girl came into my mum’s house and asked her to hand it over. I was there at the time and saw it. Another guy came into the house too and they walked out with my mum’s blank ballot paper. My mum doesn’t speak English, she has no idea she’s not supposed to give her vote.”

A second voter in Brune House, Husneara Khanam, said that Mr Robbani’s workers had collected her and her husband’s vote. Another resident took a picture, which I have, of one of Mr Rahman’s councillors, Aminur Khan, holding a sheaf of papers which the resident said were ballot papers, collected from Brune House voters. Brune House that day also contained several of the Tower Hamlets election “usual suspects,” such as the small flat which supposedly contained eight adults, all of whom had recently applied for postal votes.

Mr Khan categorically denied that he had been involved in collecting any ballot papers. Despite my repeated attempts to contact him, Gulam Robbani refused to comment.

Now the Electoral Commission report reveals the outcome of police investigations into the 64 complaints of electoral malpractice, including 18 complaints of postal vote fraud, made to the Met in respect of the 2012 Tower Hamlets elections. Even the Commission, one of Britain’s feeblest regulators, could not deny that there has been a “breakdown of trust” between the people who run elections in Tower Hamlets and the wider political community.

But guess what? “Despite the large number of cases of alleged electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets which were reported to and investigated by the MPS [the Met], only a small number of allegations have been substantiated by evidence or statements by victims or witnesses. Investigations… have identified no evidence to suggest that there was any large scale attempt to affect the outcome of any of the April and May 2012 elections in Tower Hamlets.”

By pure coincidence, no doubt, this happily accords with the Electoral Commission’s own verdict on the day the scandal was revealed – the “no evidence” line was being cranked out even before they’d had the investigation!

But look more closely at Appendix B of the report, which briefly describes 53 of the 64 cases, and the reasons the Met “identified no evidence” are often all too clear. First, in at least four (probably significantly more) of the cases, despite the claim that they were “investigated by the MPS,” the police do not appear to have done the investigation. They subcontracted their detective work to Tower Hamlets Council – in other words, to people working for Lutfur Rahman!

The most disturbing of these is numbered as case 6 in the report, and is one I first revealed in my original coverage. It involves a flat in Hobsons Place, Hanbury Street, and a man named Abdul Manik, who cast a postal vote in the byelection. Alas, when I called at the flat Mr Manik’s daughter, Jona, told me that he was (a) a long-term resident of Bangladesh, having lived there for several years; and (b) dead.

The Electoral Commission report states (para 2.21, page 12): “The MPS confirmed that they could find no evidence that offences had been committed” in this case. However, the description of the case in Appendix B (page 23) shows that this is untrue. The Met didn’t actually look for evidence, talk to the family or do the investigation – it was “the local authority” which did that.

Directly contradicting what Jona Manik told me, the council claimed that her father had been in Tower Hamlets until days previously, cast his postal vote, gone to Bangladesh and then at once died. This seems fairly unlikely, given that postal ballot papers are only issued just before polling day, but it would have been nice for the police to have actually investigated it themselves before dismissing the allegation.

Many other cases involving suspiciously large numbers of adults (seven, nine etc) squeezed into two and three-bedroom flats are breezily dismissed as having the residency numbers “confirmed” by the “2012 canvass” or “2013 canvass.” These canvasses, too, were presumably undertaken by Lutfur’s council, not the police.

Even where Plod did knock on some doors themselves, they don’t seem to have done it very vigorously. In another case, for instance, “the residents of the property where two postal votes were alleged to have been sent to and returned from were visited by officers investigating the allegation. They denied that they had applied to vote by post but would not agree to assist further with the enquiry. While it was possible that an offence may have been committed, the MPS was unable to substantiate the allegations or identify any potential suspects.”

In a third case, a property where two postal votes had been sent to and returned from “was confirmed as empty by the MPS investigation. It was not possible, however, to identify any potential suspects.”

How most police officers – outside Tower Hamlets – “identify potential suspects” is by asking “cui bono,” or who benefits. In this case, Cllr Robbani strikes me as a potential beneficary. Did they speak to him or his campaign workers? It doesn’t look like they did. Did they ask to Cllr Aminur Khan about his alleged role as a postal-vote harvester? Apparently no again. Nor, it seems, were several key witnesses approached. I could have put the Met in touch with any number of such people – but, you guessed it, I was never approached, either.

Did the cops, perhaps, examine these dodgy ballot papers for fingerprints and so on? No, “the MPS considered that submitting the returned postal ballot packs for forensic analysis would be unlikely to assist identification of suspects.” How did they know, I wonder, if they didn’t even try?

In numerous other cases listed, investigations did result in voters – many of whom voted in the April byelection – being removed from the register. In case 36, “seven people registered to vote at property who no longer reside. Four names deleted effective for May elections. No vote cast in any of the seven names at May elections. No offences.” But the election we’re most interested in was in April, not May, officer. On that election, case 36 maintains a discreet silence.

The Met’s lame performance on this is entirely in line with its general reluctance to disturb the worrying status quo in Tower Hamlets. In 2011, stickers promising Koranic vengeance against homosexuals and declaring the borough a “gay-free zone” appeared across the area. From very early on, as I documented, police had CCTV footage of an unidentified Muslim youth posting the stickers, but refused to release it for weeks and told campaigners they could not talk about it because they “did not want to upset” the Muslim community. When the images were finally released, the suspect was quickly identified and caught, though many were dissatisfied with the minor charge that was brought.

The police also did absolutely nothing to curb repeated homophobic abuse by Lutfur Rahman supporters against gay councillors – in Tower Hamlets’ own council chamber. One of the victims, Cllr Peter Golds, said at the time: “If that happened in a football stadium, arrests would have taken place. I have complained, twice, to the police, and have heard nothing. A Labour colleague waited three hours at the police station before being told that nothing would be done. The police are afraid of being accused of Islamophobia. Another Labour councillor said that the Met is now the reverse of what it must have been like in the 1970s, with a complete lack of interest when white people make complaints of harassment and hatred.”

The cops have also been accused of failing to take seriously repeated attempts by Muslim hardliners to impose “Islamic norms” about dress, hair covering, smoking during Ramadan and so on on local Muslims.

In short, the Met have a huge amount of ground to make up in Tower Hamlets. Their latest efforts have made no progress at all.

Government accuses Lutfur Rahman of 'divisive community politics' and 'mismanagement of council staff and resources'

The extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman (above), is under deepening pressure on all fronts today. His attempt to abuse the local government standards code to hound one of his most effective opponents, Cllr Peter Golds (see my account of it here) has humiliatingly collapsed, leaving council taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket.

From the Labour side, the party’s leader in Tower Hamlets, Josh Peck, today attacked the council as a “basket case” suffering a “massive failure of governance, with some seriously worrying things happening.” Even Lutfur’s newly-crowned Young Mayor of Tower Hamlets, 16-year-old Mahdi Alam, has got himself into bother after posting threats to kill on Twitter. The lad’ll fit right in!

But the most important intervention of all came from the local government minister, Brandon Lewis. Yesterday, the Tower Hamlets Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick had the answer to his Commons question about Lutfur’s misuse of taxpayers’ money on dozens of illegal propaganda TV commercials for himself (sharply condemned by the regulator, Ofcom.)

In his response, Mr Lewis went further than ever in condemning Lutfur’s regime. He called the illegal broadcasts “further evidence of a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and mismanagement of council staff and resources by the mayoral administration.”

This is striking stuff, which deserves to be heeded and quoted whenever Lutfur is mentioned. (For the benefit of new readers, he was elected with the close help of an Islamic extremist group, the IFE, which believes in turning Britain into a sharia state under Islamic law. In office, he has recruited people with close links to the IFE to key council positions, and channelled millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to IFE front organisations. For a full account of Lutfur’s many controversies, see here.)

The minister also said that the Government was looking at putting the local authority publicity code – which bans taxpayer-funded propaganda newspapers like Lutfur’s East End Life – on a statutory basis to stop Tower Hamlets and a couple of other boroughs ignoring it. Great idea, Mr Lewis – but act soon. East End Lies will be Lutfur’s key weapon at the local elections, which are only 15 months away.

 

Lutfur Rahman: some facts the Guardian forgot to mention

 

For reasons I can’t quite understand, the Guardian newspaper, “the world’s leading liberal voice,” has appointed itself spokesperson for some of the most illiberal forces in London, notably the extremist-dominated East London Mosque and the council leader closely connected to it, Lutfur Rahman (above).  Maybe the Guardian likes them simply because the Telegraph doesn’t like them – but even for the left, that seems an outstandingly stupid reason to embrace people who oppose everything you’re supposed to believe.

The paper’s latest panegyric for Rahman, last week (“what inspires and energises me is the community”) was so poor a piece of journalism that it even briefly trended on Twitter. As Private Eye’s Tim Minogue put it, “the Order of the Brown Nose profile of Rahman worth it for comments alone. Readers put record straight – and how! More comments deleted from Guardian toadying profile of Mayor Lutfur than an Alan Rusbridger piano piece.”

The writer, Saba Salman, presented Rahman’s exclusion from the Labour Party as “a gulf between national leadership and grassroots activism,” described the allegations against him as “mudslinging,” and accepted at face value not just his denials of extremist links but his claim not to be cutting frontline services (tell that to, say, the users of the Appian Court day centre in Bow, which faces closure – while new millions are to be poured into religious buildings, mainly mosques.)

So I thought I’d update my earlier summary of the evidence against Lutfur just to remind you of all the things Ms Salman had to ignore. What follows is not mud – but fact, which has withstood literally hundreds of complaints to Ofcom and the PCC from Rahman and his supporters. Let’s hope the Guardian gets back to doing some actual reporting about this subject soon.

March 1 2010: The Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches reveal that Lutfur, then the Labour council leader, achieved the position with the help of the Islamic Forum of Europe, based at the East London Mosque, which works to create a sharia state and an “Islamic social, economic and political order” in Britain. In a filmed interview, he refuses to deny the charge.  Under Lutfur, large sums of council money are diverted to IFE front organisations, a man with close links to the IFE is made the council’s assistant chief executive despite being unqualified for the job, and the respected white chief executive is summarily sacked. In undercover filming, senior IFE activists boast of their “consolidated… influence and power” over the council.  The local Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, tells us that his party has been “infiltrated” by the IFE.

May: Lutfur is replaced by the Labour group as council leader. The IFE-linked assistant chief executive is forced to resign. However, the IFE now aims to “get one of our brothers” into the powerful new directly-elected mayoral post that is to replace the council leadership in October.

July/August: Lutfur is excluded from Labour’s shortlist for the mayoral candidacy, but goes to court to force his reinstatement. The solicitor he uses was closely connected to the al-Qaeda-supporting group, al-Muhajiroun, and signed a fatwa calling for a “full-scale war of jihad” against Britain and the US.

September 3: In filmed interviews (transcripts here), local residents tell how Lutfur has personally signed up their entire families as sham Labour members to win selection as the party’s mayoral candidate.

September 4: Lutfur is selected as the Labour candidate.

September 15: Evidence is submitted by one of the defeated candidates and others to Labour’s National Executive Committee detailing Lutfur’s links with the IFE and a powerful local businessman, Shiraj Haque, and alleging massive fraud in the selection.

September 18: Lutfur is accused of failing to declare thousands of pounds in donations from Shiraj Haque – a criminal offence, if true. We have been asked to point out that Lutfur was later sent a police letter saying that there was “no case to answer.” However, the complainant, Cllr Peter Golds, insists that the police never investigated the matter seriously.

September 21: Labour’s NEC sacks Lutfur as the candidate.

September 25: Lutfur stands as an independent. Under Labour Party rules, he is automatically expelled from the party. Six of the people who sign his nomination papers have the same names as senior office-holders and trustees of the IFE.

October 15: Thousands of copies are distributed of publicity material smearing Lutfur’s Labour opponent as a wife-beater and an enemy of Islam. The chief coordinator of Lutfur’s campaign, Bodrul Islam, later says that the material was produced by people “embedded” in the Rahman campaign and with its full knowledge.

October 19: Ken Livingstone, Labour candidate for mayor of London, who has also benefited from IFE support, and been personally paid money by Lutfur’s council, campaigns for Lutfur against his own party’s candidate.

October 21: Lutfur Rahman elected mayor. The chief coordinator of his election campaign, Bodrul Islam, later says that the new mayor had a “strategic relationship” with the IFE and “most of [Lutfur’s] campaigners during the election were either Respect or IFE activists.”

October 28: Lutfur furious as the council votes to deny him a 98 per cent pay rise, awarding instead a 71 per cent rise. One of his key supporters, Cllr Oli Rahman, describes it as a “cynical” attempt to “undermine the mayor.”

November 3: Tower Hamlets places CDs of sermons by an extremist Islamic preacher, Abdurraheem Green, in the Town Hall reception area. Green believes that “Islam is not compatible with democracy” and that a husband should have the right to administer “a very light beating” to his wife.

November 10: Lutfur appoints Alibor Choudhury, a former employee of an IFE front organisation with a long track record of encounters with the police, to the key post of cabinet member for finance. Alibor was committed for trial for violent disorder in 2006, but the case was dropped due to what he insists was an “abuse of process.” (Lutfur’s cabinet was, and remains, 100 per cent Bengali, in a borough which is only about 35% Bengali.)

November 14: Lutfur fails to turn up to Tower Hamlets’ annual Remembrance ceremony at the borough’s man war memorial, despite promising to attend. All the borough’s other civic leaders make it. The following year (see Oct 10, 2011 below) he will make front-page news by trying to hire out the war memorial grounds for City bankers’ Christmas piss-ups.

November: Lutfur’s publicly-funded political adviser at Tower Hamlets, Kazim Zaidi, anonymously writes a chapter in an Exeter University report attacking Lutfur’s critics and libelling six senior figures in the Tower Hamlets Labour Party and the local Labour MP as racists. The university is forced to withdraw the report and issue a grovelling apology.

December 2010- February 2011: At council meetings, Shiraj Haque and a crowd of other Lutfur supporters shout homophobic abuse at the mayor’s opponents from the public gallery. They abuse Peter Golds, the Tory leader, as “Mrs Golds” and a “poofter.” They heckle another gay councillor, Labour’s Josh Peck, and a gay local resident speaking at the meeting with animal noises and cries of “Unnatural acts! Unnatural acts!”

January 27 2011: An official Labour Party inquiry finds a “concerted effort” to add fake members to the party during the campaign to select Labour’s candidate for the Tower Hamlets mayoralty.

February 23: Lutfur’s voting bloc on the council passes a motion to “campaign against the pariah state of Israel.”

March 8: Lutfur gives a character reference on Town Hall notepaper for Zamal Uddin, a minicab driver who had six weeks earlier pleaded guilty to a serious sexual assault on a woman passenger. When the press finds out, he claims that he did not know the nature of Uddin’s crime before agreeing to provide the reference.

March: Shiraj Haque is appointed chair of the advisory board for a major council-subsidised festival, the Baishakhi Mela. The council had previously removed him from all involvement with the festival and severed relations after allegations, which he denies, of massive financial irregularities and immigration fraud, with the Mela used as a front to bring in illegal immigrants under the guise of performers.

April 4: Shiraj Haque’s premises are raided by police investigating a major counterfeit wine ring.

April 5: Disclosure logs reveal that the council is paying £50,000 a month of taxpayers’ money to three front organisations for the IFE.

April 12: One of Lutfur’s key supporters, Cllr Shelina Akhtar, is charged with fraud. (She already has one conviction for the same offence.)

April 17:  The council’s official propaganda newspaper, East End Life, runs a series of adverts for a training centre closely connected to Anjem Choudhury, the al Qaeda supporter who runs the extremist group al-Muhajiroun.

April 27: Lutfur takes a number of council staff paid by the taxpayer to campaign for the Labour Party in a parliamentary byelection. The District Auditor is called in.

May 8: Lutfur and Shiraj Haque turn the taxpayer-funded Baishakhi Mela festival into a platform for Ken Livingstone, who makes the keynote speech attacking Boris Johnson.

June 8: Defying a new local authority publicity code against taxpayer-subsidised council “Pravdas,” Lutfur rules that East End Life will continue publishing, at a cost to the public purse of around £1.3 million a year.

June 17: As the council passes budget cuts of £70 million, Lutfur spends £115,000 to refurbish his personal office and treble it in size.

July 4: One of Lutfur’s cabinet, Oli Rahman, appears on a platform with a group campaigning for the “unacceptability of homosexuality.” Lutfur has earlier pledged “zero tolerance” against a wave of homophobic attacks in the borough.

July 14: Lutfur acquires a luxury Mercedes and council-employed chauffeur at a cost to council taxpayers of up to £60,000 a year. No other elected mayor in London, Boris Johnson included, has an official car.

July 22: Tower Hamlets loses its second chief executive in two years as its top official, Kevan Collins, quits for a lower-paid job. He praises councillors (but not Lutfur) in his resignation statement.

August 7: The Telegraph reveals that Shiraj Haque has been given a Tower Hamlets council house at the subsidised rent of £135 a week, even though he is a multi-millionaire owning at least eight properties worth around £5 million.

August 8: As riots sweep London, Tower Hamlets’ enforcement officers are given the day off.

Sept 12: Lutfur scraps the official car of the borough’s ceremonial mayor and tells him to travel to functions, in his robes and gold chain, by taxi.

Oct 10: Tower Hamlets hits the front pages after hiring out its war memorial garden for City bankers’ Christmas parties. The decision is reversed after a storm of protest.

Oct 12: The council’s official newspaper, East End Life, promotes an extremist preacher previously banned from speaking on council premises.

Nov 18: A key Lutfur ally, Shah Yousuf, appears in court on criminal charges under the Representation of the People Act for producing the smear leaflets falsely claiming that Lutfur’s main opponent, Labour’s Helal Abbas, is a wife-beater and enemy of Islam (see Oct 15, 2010.) The leaflets were produced with the Lutfur campaign’s full knowledge, according to the chief coordinator of the campaign. The charges are later mysteriously dropped.

Dec 20: An eight-month campaign of complaints by Lutfur to the Press Complaints Commission about our coverage fails, when the PCC rules that he can be described as “extremist-linked” or “extremist-backed.”

Dec 20: The Telegraph publishes Companies House records showing that Lutfur’s cabinet member for the environment, Cllr Shahed Ali, has avoided £25,000 in tax by liquidating his restaurant business, which immediately reopens under a new name and carries on trading as normal throughout. He uses the proceeds of the tax avoidance to buy himself a Porsche.

Dec 21: The Telegraph reveals leaked Tower Hamlets documents showing that Hira Islam, a Tower Hamlets council officer who is also a key figure in the Islamic Forum of Europe, Lutfur’s extremist backers, has been disciplined by the council for interfering with the May 2010 parliamentary and local government elections. Hira Islam is given only a written warning but the man who first exposed the scandal, the former council leader Helal Abbas, is suspended from the council for “breaching confidentiality” – after a complaint by Hira Islam!

Dec 22: The Telegraph publishes pages written on a social networking website by Lutfur’s cabinet member for culture, Cllr Rania Khan, in which she publishes pictures of knives, declaring: “I know it’s not ladylike, but I luv my weapons,” mocks gay people and backs extremist clerics.

Jan 9 2012: One of Lutfur’s key supporters, Cllr Shelina Akhtar, is convicted of benefit fraud – against her own council – for the second time in eighteen months. Despite pleading guilty, she refuses to give up her council seat and Lutfur refuses to call for her resignation until eight days later.

January: A gay pub in Limehouse, the White Swan, says it faces closure after Lutfur proposes to ban its popular amateur strip night.

Feb 6: Shelina Akhtar is finally forced to give up her seat after being jailed for 16 weeks.

Feb 15: It emerges that Lutfur has hired a former adviser to Ken Livingstone, Tony Winterbottom, at a fee of £1000 a day. A key Livingstone crony, Murziline Parchment, is also hired as his chief of staff, even though council headhunters described her as “very unconvincing,” “disappointing” and “lacking in substance” in her interview for a previous Tower Hamlets role. In total, Lutfur employs 16 paid political advisers, more than any other council leader, the Mayor of London, any cabinet minister or the Prime Minister.

Feb 21: As the mayoral election approaches, new concerns are raised about vote fraud in Tower Hamlets after the electoral roll is found to contain up to 12 voters in the same small flat.

Feb: Lutfur refuses to answer questions from councillors at council meetings, with council officers explaining that to do so might breach his human rights.

March 21: It emerges that Lutfur has employed his election agent, Ghulam Robbani, a man with close links to the IFE, as a council advisor at a rate of £40 an hour. Freedom of Information requests show that he appears to have massively overbilled the council for his time, charging for instance £480 – 12 hours’ work – for attending an event that the other participants say only took 90 minutes. Robbani later resigns to stand as Lutfur’s candidate in the Spitalfields byelection caused by the jailing of Shelina Akhtar.

April 16: It emerges that one of the key figures in the IFE and East London Mosque, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, is to be charged with war crimes for his alleged involvement in a campaign of abductions and mass murders while opposing Bangladeshi independence in 1971. He denies the charges, saying they are politically-motivated.

April 19: Lutfur’s candidate, Ghulam Robbani, narrowly wins the Spitalfields byelection on an unusually high turnout, despite heavy rain throughout polling day. There is a late surge of applications for postal votes: in one large block, Brune House, Brune Street, the number of people with postal votes more than doubled in the two weeks before polling day. Turnout of postal voters is extraordinarily high: in Brune House, for instance, it is 77 per cent.

April 21: Residents of Brune House tell the Telegraph that supporters of Robbani and Lutfur, including at least one councillor, “harvested” their votes, signing them up for postal votes and collecting the blank ballot papers which were then filled in for Robbani. Council and police investigations are launched.

April 26: The Telegraph reveals that a number of dead or imprisoned people have supposedly voted in the byelection.

May: Lutfur steps up his cult of personality. Pictures of him are attached to the sides of council dustcarts. New council headed notepaper is produced with his picture on it. Large banners featuring his face are put up across the borough, including one which covers up an internationally-famous mural on Brick Lane. It is only removed after the owner of the building threatens legal action.

May 27: Nineteen people are arrested at the British High Commission in Dhaka, Bangladesh, accused of attempted immigration fraud in connection with Shiraj Haque’s Baishaki Mela. They admit they paid an unspecified individual £10,000 for fake documents claiming they were attending the mela as stallholders.

July 8: Eight Lutfur-supporting councillors are expelled from the Labour Party in a clear sign that Lutfur will not be readmitted to the party.

July 16: Shiraj Haque is given a criminal caution for selling counterfeit wine in his restaurant.

September: Lutfur announces plans to dispose of a number of pubs owned by the council, including the Queen’s Head in Limehouse, which claims to be the inspiration for the Queen Vic in EastEnders. The pubs, some of the few left in the area, may now be forced to close.

October: The heritage selloff continues after Lutfur announces plans to auction Old Flo, a Henry Moore sculpture gifted by the artist to the people of the East End, claiming it is necessary to balance the books (it later emerges that the artwork may not even belong to the council.) At the same time, however, he announces a £2 million grants programme for “faith buildings” – mostly mosques – and £6 million of further grants to “community organisations,” many of them linked to his supporters, in addition to the large and continuing grants given to front bodies for the IFE.

Oct 7: Despite the council’s pleas of poverty, it emerges that a Tower Hamlets officer has charged taxpayers £855 for two first-class rail tickets to attend a conference in Manchester. This is six times the standard walk-on fare and enough for a return flight to Australia. Some of the money is later repaid.

Dec 21: Defying Lutfur, councillors accept an offer of UN-style “support” from the Local Government Association after the departure of several key white officials and the repeated failure to appoint a new chief executive. Whitehall mulls intervention as the local government minister, Brandon Lewis, expresses “concern” over the situation in Tower Hamlets.

Jan 16 2013: Ken Livingstone is ridiculed by Labour’s National Executive Committee as he urges it to readmit Rahman and allow him to fight next year’s Tower Hamlets election as a Labour candidate.

Jan 16: The former local government minister, Bob Neill, accuses Lutfur and the council’s assistant chief executive, Isabella Freeman, of bringing the local government standards regime into “serious disrepute” by using it to bully, hound and threaten their opponents on the council on trumped-up charges. Councillors vote to discipline Freeman for her “bias,” but it makes no difference and she continues exactly as before.

Jan 23: The broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom, censures five Bengali TV channels after Lutfur’s allegedly cash-strapped council spends thousands of pounds on adverts promoting the mayor, up to 15 times every day for two weeks. Ofcom said: “The purpose of the advertisement was not to inform and educate the public [but] to promote the Mayor in a positive light.”

Let’s hope, at least, that Lutfur didn’t have to pay for his puff-piece in the Guardian.

East London Mosque condemns homophobia, yet advertised four anti-gay speakers last month alone

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I was offered the “Muslim patrol” story in Tower Hamlets, where self-proclaimed “Muslim vigilantes” filmed themselves verbally abusing and intimidating a gay man. Perhaps wrongly, I didn’t use it because I wasn’t sure whether a few kids on YouTube had national importance. I am glad, however, that the local police appear to be taking it seriously for once – in contrast to their lamentable attempts to ignore, downplay and cover up previous acts of “Islamic enforcement” and bigotry in the East End.

One Tower Hamlets organisation of undoubted national importance that continues to laugh up its sleeve at us is the East London Mosque, the capital’s largest. The mosque’s PR machine lost no time cranking out a statement condemning the “vigilantes” and claiming that the mosque was “committed to building co-operation and harmony between all communities in this borough. The actions of this tiny minority have no place in our faith.” This claim has been trustingly repeated by various journalists in the coverage this week. But, as the most cursory investigation would show, it is a brazen lie.

There is no evidence that the East London Mosque is directly involved in the latest attacks. But at least one activist in the Islamic Forum of Europe, the Islamic supremacist group that runs the mosque, has previously threatened and intimidated people for violating “Islamic norms,” using the IFE’s name.

And as this blog has repeatedly documented, the mosque itself and its annexe, the London Muslim Centre, host a constant stream of viciously homophobic and other hate preachers. In June 2011, after coming under particular pressure on the subject, the mosque promised: “Any speaker who is believed to have said something homophobic will not be allowed to use our premises.”

Sounds clear enough to me. But as I documented at the time, this promise was broken within eight days. It has been broken countless times since. And it appears to have been broken at least four times last month alone.

On December 29, the IFE advertised a fundraising dinner at the London Muslim Centre for Interpal, a charity banned in the US for its links with the terror group Hamas. Among the speakers was Interpal’s chair of trustees, Ibrahim Hewitt, who in a pamphlet likened homosexuality to child-molesting and said: “The spread of this depraved practice in a society disrupts its natural life pattern and makes those who practice it slaves to their lusts, depriving them of decent taste, decent morals, and a decent manner of living.”

On December 21, the London Muslim Centre was the advertised venue for a “charity dinner in aid of the world’s orphans,” addressed by one Murtaza Khan – a star of my Channel 4 Dispatches exposing the IFE and the mosque, and somebody who has spoken approvingly of killing gay people, saying that “not even animals behave in that manner” and calling homosexuality “this abominable action, which goes against humanity.”

On December 16, the London Muslim Centre was the advertised venue for an “unmissable winter conference” starring Hamza Tzortzis, who describes homosexuality as “behaviour that negates the Islamic vision of society.”

And on December 7, the London Muslim Centre was the advertised venue for a fundraising event with Suleiman Ghani, who believes that God created “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

As we’ve described before, gay people have been getting a tough time in Tower Hamlets recently. That simply cannot be unconnected to the fact that hatred of them is allowed to be openly and regularly expressed inside one of the area’s most prominent religious institutions. The mosque and IFE are also closely linked to the executive mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, one of whose cabinet members shared a platform at the mosque with one of its homophobic speakers.

This is not a “commitment to building co-operation between all communities.” It’s time for media colleagues to start probing the roots of bigotry in Tower Hamlets; or if they can’t manage that, at least stop tamely recycling the East London Mosque’s lies.

Hat-tip to Harry’s Place for the adverts and one of the videos.

 

Murziline Parchment: Lutfur Rahman's 'very unconvincing' chief crony

Last year I introduced you to Murziline Parchment (right of the picture above), one of Ken Livingstone’s notorious City Hall “cronies” during his mayoralty. After losing her £126,000 job when Ken lost the 2008 election, Parchment popped up again in 2011 as “head of office” for Lutfur Rahman, the elected mayor of Tower Hamlets expelled from the Labour Party for his close links with Islamic extremism.

Parchment’s qualifications for this key role – which she got without a formal interview – were always questioned by many. Now there seems to be substance to those concerns. The great Ted Jeory has been leaked an earlier application she made, in 2009, for the chief executive’s job at Tower Hamlets council. And the assessment, by the council’s own headhunters, of her capabilities is devastating.

Parchment’s performance in interview and assessment is described by the headhunters as “very unconvincing,” “disappointing,” “lacking in substance” and “consistently unable to demonstrate the technical skills, gravitas or subject matter knowledge to undertake this role.” (Perhaps they said that last bit because she told them that Tower Hamlets was an “exemplary borough with a fantastic reputation.”)

Parchment’s own CV and supporting statement, also included in the leak, is perhaps almost as damaging. We learn that she “led the restructure of the London Development Agency so that the work was realigned to the Mayor’s priorities.” The restructured LDA, of course, became a career-killing scandal for Ken which was so “aligned to his priorities” that it was commonly described as his chequebook.

Tower Hamlets currently lacks a permanent chief executive – the post has been vacant for a year after the last incumbent walked out, presumably because he no longer wanted to be associated with Lutfur’s car-crash mayoralty. So Parchment appears to have assumed some of the responsibilities of the job for which she was so comprehensively rejected – including signing off rather large invoices submitted by another questionable Rahman crony.

And tucked away in her application is a little clue to part of her attractiveness to Mayor Rahman: Parchment says that she “assisted” the East London Mosque, the extremist-controlled body which backs Lutfur, to build its highly controversial business wing (this project, as I’ve previously described, got a massive grant from Ken’s LDA, despite furious opposition from the agency’s own officials.)

Under Lutfur and Parchment, Tower Hamlets has been doing some of the same sort of thing: attempting to turn the borough into a kind of mini-Livingstone City Hall, with Ken-style targeting of public money to favoured client groups. Will it be enough to buy Lutfur re-election? Watch this space!

Ken Livingstone: Muslim extremists (and their friends) urge you to back him

Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, went round the local mosques yesterday, urging congregations to vote for his close ally Ken Livingstone. At the Brick Lane mosque, Lutfur apparently delivered a speech at the Friday prayer, saying that Ken was Muslims’ best hope – not a view shared by many of the Muslims I know.

A gentleman called Azad Ali has also been tweeting his support for Ken. Azad is the community affairs co-ordinator of the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe, which controls the East London Mosque and which is dedicated, in its own words, to changing the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed … from ignorance to Islam.” In Ken’s last term as mayor, the East London Mosque was paid £500,000 by Livingstone’s London Development Agency to help build the IFE a new headquarters. Ken’s officials furiously protested against the grant, saying there was “no case” for an LDA contribution, but were overruled. Azad is also Ken’s vice-chair at the Unite Against Fascism organisation, and was invited to speak at Ken’s Progressive London conference last year.

Azad has written on his IFE blog of his “love” for Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda cleric. He used to attend talks by Al-Qaeda’s main representative in the UK, Abu Qatada. He has described al-Qaeda as a “myth” and said that the Mumbai terrorist attacks were not terrorism. On his IFE blog, he advocated the killing of British troops in Iraq (he sued a newspaper for reporting this, and lost.) Filmed by an undercover reporter for my Channel 4 Dispatches on the IFE, Azad said: “Democracy, if it means at the expense of not implementing the sharia, of course no-one agrees with that.” His response to this exposure was to threaten our undercover reporter.

In 2008 IFE and Azad repaid Ken’s favours by running a campaign called “Muslims for Ken” – which boasted that “we got out the vote” in its east London heartland. There were indeed astonishing, even unbelievable swings towards Ken in Tower Hamlets last time, no doubt aided by Muslims for Ken handing out leaflets at the mosques claiming Boris would ban the Koran.

There’s not so much overt activity of that kind in 2012 – Livingstone obviously hasn’t got the public purse to buy votes with any more. But stuff appears to be going on under the surface – and the postal-vote situation is still looking extremely promising for the Kenster.