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.


Ken Livingstone stages media event to protest against his own policy

Tomorrow, with the press and TV invited, Ken Livingstone will present a petition against “Tory police cuts” at City Hall. The petition has been on his website for the last six weeks with, ooh, 313 whole signatures at the time of writing. “We call on the Tory led Metropolitan Police Authority and the Tory Mayor Boris Johnson to reverse the decision to cut 455 police officers,” it storms.

There’s just one teensy-weensy problem, which has caused vast amusement in Team Boris. These aren’t “Tory police cuts” at all. They are part of Project Herald, which was proposed in 2004, under (cough) Ken Livingstone, and whose first stage was agreed in February 2008, three months before Ken lost office. Here are the minutes of the relevant Metropolitan Police Authority committee meeting (see item 96).

The specific decision to cut 455 police officers, though approved a month after the election, was made not by a “Tory led MPA” but by a committee chaired by none other than… Labour’s Len Duvall, who remained chair of the MPA at that point! Here are the minutes of that meeting – see item 9. And here is the agenda item which explains it.

The intention of Project Herald is to reduce police officer involvement in the custody process – so it certainly will result in fewer police officers inside police stations, booking prisoners, and fewer officers in the force overall. But the MPA claims it will result in more officers on the streets.

A spokesman for the MPA said last night: “The decision to streamline the staffing of custody suites throughout the Metropolitan Police, releasing 550 police officers from administrative duties and replacing them with dedicated detention officers was discussed several times by members during 2008 and the final decision to go ahead was confirmed by the Co-ordination and Planning Committee, chaired by Len Duvall, then Chair of the Authority.

“The net effect of the custody reforms is the availability of an extra 550 police officers for front line duties. The linked reduction of 455 in overall policing numbers must be measured against the increased hours of duty on the streets of London.”

We’ve already had a campaign by Ken Livingstone against public transport fare rises – even though he raised, for instance, the single Oyster bus fare by 25% in 2007 alone.

We’ve had a campaign by Ken against evil bankers – even though, when mayor, he was actually to the right of New Labour in arguing against tighter City regulation and saying that non-doms should not have to pay even a token amount of tax “or the City will suffer.” Now we have this.

Question: is Ken shameless – or just clueless?

Ali Dizaei: a defeat for the race-mongers

Ali Dizaei has been jailed for four years Photo: PA
Ali Dizaei has been jailed for four years Photo: PA

With Commander Ali Dizaei’s conviction for perverting the course of justice and misconduct in public office today, the Met has finally rid itself of its single most destructive officer. Many Met chiefs – and many anti-racism campaigners with impeccable records – believe that at least some of what was described over the last few years as the Met’s “race problem” was in fact an “Ali Dizaei” problem.

Dizaei, they say, used his office in the Met’s Black Police Association (BPA) to shield himself from the consequences of his own criminality. Any investigation of him was denounced as racist – and he also wound up other black officers, including the former assistant commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, to press sometimes over-egged grievances so he would not be alone in the firing line.

The Met does, I think, still have a real problem with race. There has been a remarkable lack of black officers promoted to senior roles, a number of troubling discrimination cases and settlements, a tendency for black recruits to leave sooner than whites. Black Londoners are significantly less satisfied with the Met’s service than whites.

But black officers have been badly served by the BPA, and by their most senior standard-bearers, such as Ghaffur and Dizaei. There’s increasing evidence that many realise this – the association’s founding chairman, David Michael, for instance, has denounced the way that the BPA’s decisionmaking became dominated by a small group around Dizaei.

Some commentators are claiming that there will be “big reverberations” from this  conviction. There won’t be. After Dizaei’s arrest, the BPA called for black Londoners to boycott recruitment for the Met – a call that went almost entirely ignored. That showed how much clout Dizaei and the race-mongers really have.

'Terrorist' photographers: why are our police so stupid?

Highly amused to read the police’s latest defence today of their absurd and sinister policy of targeting photographers. They’ve been claiming that it “may have foiled a massive al-Qaeda attack” after it resulted in the arrest of an “Algerian national” (oo-er, suspicious already) who “filmed four lengthy clips on a Nokia N95 phone.” This, according to the cops, was “hostile reconnaissance” on possible terror targets in London.

Read a little further into the story, however, and you learn the following inconvenient facts:

It happened five months ago.

Although arrested under the Terrorism Act, the suspect was actually charged with… fraud.

Detectives “were unable to find direct links to a terror group”.

The fact is that harassing photographers is not just illiberal, but a monumental waste of police time. Terrorists can use any number of undetectable ways to recce targets – such as pretending to talk on their phones while taking pictures with them, discovering the joys of Google Earth – or buying a picture postcard. No terrorist would be as obvious as this Algerian guy, who was probably taking pictures for some lower-level crime, such as pickpocketing.

If this is the best example Plod can find, then all it actually confirms is what a disgrace their policy is.