Further to my post here yesterday about Lutfur Rahman’s court reference for the convicted minicab molester Zamal Uddin, the Mayor has sent me the following explanation:
I refer to your blog post dated 11 March. I do not usually comment on correspondence of this nature but given the circumstances it is important that I set out clearly what happened. Before I do so I want to make it crystal clear that I condemn all forms of criminality and my thoughts are with the victim in this case.
The family of this man resides in my ward of Spitalfields. They approached me on numerous occasions to give a reference for their brother who I also know as one my constituents. I was not aware of the nature of the charges against him and had no reason to believe or suspect him of any such conduct.
Based on the information provided by the family I was told that the named person was in court due to a revocation of his driving licence as he was not currently insured. They made the case to me that this was an oversight and that a reference would help him to convince the judge that he be allowed to retain his licence as it was a one off mistake.
Elected politicians are often approached with reference requests particularly where a family’s livelihood is at stake – however no one in the past has abused my trust in this way and had I known about the nature of the offence I would never have agreed to supply a reference.
I gave a reference as did many other councillors, who clearly were misled as to the nature of the offence. I am in the process of seeking advice so as to retract the reference and make my views very clear that such offences should be punished without any form of leniency and that I wholly support the judgment of the court in this case.
I hope this seeks to clarify my position in some ways.
I then asked him when he supplied the reference. He said: “The reference was sent well before the court hearing [on
February 15 January 18]. As I stated earlier, I would not have even contemplated sending a reference if it was for a criminal offence, let alone a sexually motivated one.”
I also asked him if it was written on council stationery, and he has now confirmed it was.
Lutfur’s decision to respond shows how serious this matter is. He is a professional solicitor and a member of the Law Society. That he failed to check and verify the nature of the charge on someone for whom he was providing a character reference beggars belief. It seems as if there is a bunch of “elected politicians” out there chucking around criminal character references like confetti.
I’ve spoken to a legal source about this, who sits as a judge. They tell me it is “absolutely incredible” that someone of Lutfur’s standing would supply a reference without checking what the charge was. And just so I’m clear, the source used the word “incredible” in its literal sense.
Lutfur’s decision is I think seriously damaging. At the very best, it shows great naivety and a major lack of judgment, two criticisms that have been chucked his way in the past. As I’ve said before, if I were him, I’d be a bit more careful about the friends I keep.
[By the way, I also told Lutfur I was extremely surprised that Takki Sulaiman’s council press office had decided to provide a “no comment” when I called yesterday. Here’s Lutfur’s ominous reply: “I agree with you, this could have been dealt with earlier. I will look into that.”]
UPDATE, Monday, March 14, 10.30am
I’ve just spoken to Snaresbrook Crown Court. Zamal Uddin’s plea and directions hearing was actually on January 18 and not mid-February as originally thought. His sentencing hearing was on March 8. Why the January hearing was only reported in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph a month later, I don’t know: I can only think that the news agency decided to have another stab at pushing the story. However, it means that there was a gap of seven weeks between Uddin’s guilty plea and the sentencing at which the Mayor’s reference was mentioned in court. That is seven weeks in which the full nature of Uddin’s crime was known – time enough for the mayor and the councillors to both find out what had happened and then retract their references.
Also, I emailed Lutfur yesterday to ask for a copy of his reference and to ask why he failed to contact the court before the sentencing hearing to retract it. He has yet to respond.