Update March 5, 9.50pm: Thanks to data journalist Mark Baynes, who runs the Love Wapping site, the extract from Tuesday’s transcript at the end of this posy has now been properly formatted and made much easier to read.
I had my first visit to Court 38 today. If you want to sample it yourself, you have some seven days of hearings left. It’s due to end a week on Friday.
However, Commissioner Mawrey QC, who you have to see in person to appreciate what a class act he is (his asides and put downs are comical), has stated he will make no judgment until shortly after Easter. That could well be mid-April. That means were he to set aside the May 2014 election, a mayoral by election would not take place on General Election day.
Any appeal from Lutfur Rahman on an unfavourable ruling would delay that further, perhaps by a couple of months. There’s no real harm in speculating what might happen in those circumstances but there is already talk about standing a possible unity candidate against Lutfur’s choice (it’s likely he would be barred from standing again). John Biggs vs Rabina Khan perhaps?
But this really is getting ahead of ourselves. The odds at the outset of this hearing were stacked in Lutfur’s favour.
Because this is Tower Hamlets, some of the proceedings are surreal. And with Alibor Choudhury, Lutfur’s election agent in the witness stand, it was a sure bet we’d have a bit of theatre.
For example, mid-afternoon, this piece of evidence was passed to both the judge and Alibor to examine.
This is an official Tower Hamlets First mug. Commissioner Mawrey remarked it was clearly well used as it was chipped.
It was presented to him as evidence that Alibor had arranged for gifts for the 500 or so guests who turned up to a dinner in Canary Wharf’s East Wintergarden in January last year. I reported on it here. Today, we learnt the mug was part of a collector’s dream “party pack” that also included a pen and a brochure. Alibor denied it was a “bribe” to get people to vote for Lutfur. The dinner itself was hosted by Canary Wharf Group, which also paid for the £23,000 of catering provided by the Pride of Asia restaurant. Canary Wharf Group really are very generous aren’t they.
- Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 specifies that it is a criminal offence to make or publish a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of an election candidate. The purpose of making or publishing this false statement must be seen to be to affect how many votes the candidate will get.
- Section 106 thus specifies that, in this offence, it must be a distinct statement of fact as opposed to an expression of opinion or comment about a candidate.
- If a defendant can show that he/she has reasonable grounds for believing that the statement was true at the time of publication, then they will not be successfully prosecuted for this offence – even if the statement does turn out to be untrue. This differs from other defamation and libel actions whereby the defendant must prove that the statement is in fact true.
The onus is on the petitioners to disprove that Lutfur or his agent did not reasonably believe John Biggs to be a racist, if that’s what they labelled him. This is difficult to achieve. In other words, it might be untrue that Biggs is a racist but if Lutfur and Alibor Choudhury really thought he was then it would not be an offence.
So much of the cross-examination of Alibor by Francis Hoar over the past two days has centred on a BBC Sunday Politics interview with John Biggs in September 2013. This interview was broadcast a couple of weeks after the EDL had tried to march through the borough. In the broadcast, John referred to Lutfur’s Bangladeshi-only cabinet and suggested the mayor was favouring the Bangladeshi community in his policy-making.
Alibor has told the court this incensed him. He said he wanted to confront him immediately and that he was hearing complaints about these words from residents on the doorstep. He said Lutfur asked him to remain calm and that he instead would write to the general secretary of the Labour Party, Iain McNicol, requesting he tell Biggs to retract his words. Alibor said it was only when McNicol failed to reply that he issued a press release in February 2014, five months later, highlighting the statement and claiming Biggs was out to “divide the East End”.
Francis Hoar, cross-examining, suggested this was a cynical political ploy and wondered why, if there had been such widespread anger at the time of the broadcast, there was not one press article or TV report about it, nor indeed any comments on social media.
The Commissioner also wondered why Alibor, if he was sincere in his anger, had not simply written to Biggs directly. Alibor denied the press releases were politically motivated and that he was merely trying to get John to make a statement. The judge, in a slightly incredulous tone, asked him if he really believed that John, having been the subject of an aggressive press release, would then come back and say “Yes, I’m a racist.”
Shortly afterwards, Alibor exclaimed that “we didn’t start this race war…[it was] the Labour party”.
Really, there is so much on this that you will have to read it for yourselves in the transcript. It won’t disapppoint.
If you’re reading this on a mobile, you might want to stop now because I’m pasting below a long and unedited extract from yesterday. If you feel this lengthy extract is just too cumbersome for the blogpost, again let me know and I’ll delete it.
ALIBOR (WITNESS): When I saw that, I saw the Sunday Politics show, initially I was more than outraged. Once I had calmed down, I realised what John had done. There was no need for him to say, to pick on the ethnicity of the mayor and his cabinet members. What hurt the most was the lie, the lie that the primary policy focus was Bangladeshi, his Bancroft library, the project for the Bangladeshi community. If I am honest with you, I do not[ think that many Bangladeshi people use it. Is the Tower Hamlets street pastors a Bangladeshi project, I do not think it is. It belongs to the church. City Gateway belongs to the church. I can go on and on and on about how we have resourced and supported white projects, if you likealthough these projects do not, you know, exclusively support and deliver to the white community, but these projects have a focus. And to say that in the context of a lot of racial tension at that time because, remember, the EDL had just marched through our borough two weeks before on the 7th, they had marched throughthe borough. Britain First had started to send threats to local mosques and threatened through the media, socially media mainly to march and start thesethey are not proper christian patrols but they arethat is what they call them, and knowing that there was an election looming, I think that was the wisest and most damaging thing a person in his position of his stature could do. If I had said that, can you imagine, Mr. Hoar, if I had said that about the Jewish community or the black community or the Chinese community, that would received very badly.
Q. So, you were and you have said outraged?
Q. You thought this was extremely divisive?
Q. You considered that it was dangerous because the EDL had marched only two weeks beforehand and yet you did nothing about it, save from a private letter from the mayor to the Labour Party for something like five months, yes, five months; that is true, is it not?
A. Mr. Hoar, again, it really depresses me to say this. I had to bite my lip for a long, long time. The mayor, who I have a lot of respect for, is a lot wiser than me and a lot maturer than me when it comes to dealing with situations like this. He had written to the general secretary, Iain McNicol, askinghim to intervene on this and get John Biggs to retract what he had said. Obviously that had fallen on deaf ears. There was only so much I could do. I knew that if I had asked the mayor if I could write a letter and kind of deal with this myself, he would not necessarily approve.
Q. There is a thriving Bengali media, both in Tower Hamlets and nationally, is there not?
A. I cannot speak for the national Bangladeshi press, but locally-
Q. A number of newspapers, television channels and so on; that is true, is it not?
A. Mr. Hoar, I live in a bit of a bubble so I can only speak for Tower Hamlets.
Q. A lot of it is based in Tower Hamlets because of the concentration of the community in Tower Hamlets?
A. I know several media outlets, yes.
Q. Yet despite that we hear nothing about that comment by Mr. Biggs in the Bengali media until February, do we?
A. That is correct. Because we abided by the mayor ‘s action on this, his advice and intervention was that we would speak to the Labour Party to get this resolved and we do it quietly and we do it amicably. It clearly did not work and when I am on my campaign trail knocking on doors and having residents say to me, How could you let this man speak like this divide usand portray this borough as a basket case run by Bengali supremacists, that is an insult to us all .
THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury, a sort of tailpiece to Mr. Hoar ‘s question is this. He said the Bengali press in Tower Hamlets did not appear to pick this up or say anything about it for several months. I can appreciate your answer that you say, Well, we did not stir it because the mayor thought it would be sensible not to stir , that I fully understand. Is it a coincidence that the Bengali press did nothing about this public broadcast, or were they asked, as it were, to tone down any reaction to it?
THE WITNESS: All I can say, my Lord, is that the mayor decided to resolve it by having the Labour Party speak to Mr. Biggs about this. There was no media work done on our part and I cannot really speak for why the media did not pick it up themselves, if that is-
Q. So, nobody had a quiet word with the London Bangla saying cool it ; is that correct?
A. I would have to see the article, my Lord.
Q. No. If the press does not run something on it, it might be that they have decided all individually that they are not going to touch it?
A. It could be possible, my Lord.
Q. Or that somebody has said, Cool it because it does not helpus ?
A. It could be possible, my Lord.
THE COMMISSIONER: Do you think this would be a good time to take a break, Mr. Hoar? It is twenty past three. Shall we say half past three? (A short break)
THE COMMISSIONER: Yes, Mr. Hoar?
MR. HOAR: Mr. Choudhury, before the break we were talking about the media, in particular the Bengali media, after the remarks by Mr. Biggs on the 30th or so of September 20 . In addition to an absence of response in that quarter, there was no response on Twitter and no response on Facebook, was there?
THE WITNESS: I cannot account for what happened in social media, Mr. Hoar; but I can tell you that on the doorstep it was definitely being talked about.
Q. Certainly nothing has been producedI appreciate that you are not a party to these proceedingsbut certainly no evidence has ever been produced from Twitter or Facebook. You are a not a party but you are the election agent, are you not?
Q. Therefore, you know there is a lot at stake in this petition for you as well as for Mr. Rahman; yes?
A. (No verbal response)
Q. If you had found
THE COMMISSIONER: Is that correct?
THE WITNESS: I understand, my Lord.
MR. HOAR: So, if you had been aware of any comments about this remark between that five month hiatus, you would have got them together and given them to K&L Gates, the solicitors to the mayor, would you not?
THE WITNESS: Mr. Hoar, for me if there is a tidier way to sort something out, I will use that as my first option. Clearly it did not work. I was still getting feedback from people out in the community, feedback which suggested to me that what John had said on the Sunday Politics show was deeply, deeply offensive. I made it very clear that I would not act spontaneously on a whim and I would, if possible, get a second opinion. And, you know, and I have given you evidence of this already, I sought a second opinion from the EHRC.
Q. That is just it, is it not? If, Mr. Choudhury, it was right that this remark had caused outrage, the outrage would be all over Twitter and it would be all over Facebook, would it not?
A. Mr. Hoar, it was all my over my brain and that is why I felt I needed to act and I had to bite my lip, because the mayor would not approve of direct confrontation on this matter.
Q. You say that people on the doorstep and on the street were outraged by this and they told you so?
.Q. You say that despite the fact, and you say that because this was a comment on a south eastern area BBC broadcast?
Q. Which had a relatively widespread audience and yet, despite that, nobody thought to put it in the press and nobody thought to complain about it elsewhere, did they?
A. Mr. Hoar, I cannot explain the actions of the press. I can explain the social media element because I am not a great fan of social media myself, although I do have Facebook page, and I do use Twitter occasionally, but I am not someone who checks social media on a regular basis, so I cannot confirm anything with regards to that. What I can say is, on a personal level, as in like through my engagement with residents, that people were outraged, very upset and some people just clearly scared of the consequences. They were just like, What is going on in this borough? How can we have someone of his stature, someone who is supposed to be representing at least three very diverse boroughs, say something like that and get away with it .
THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury, would you accept that in general the Bangladeshi press in Tower Hamlets is supportive of Mayor Rahman?
THE WITNESS: My Lord, the Bangladeshi press, in my view, aim to provide objective news, impartial news, you will see that theycover the mayor as well as prominent members of other parties. If they deliver on something or if there is an activity or even an incident worth reporting, then that is reported. I would not say, my Lord, forgive me if I sound disrespectful, I would not say they were solely promoting the mayor and have any kind of connection in that sense with him.
Q. Would it be fair to say that they were in general sympathetic towards the mayor?
A. My Lord, for me they are sympathetic to news. If someone is going to deliver news, then they will report that. I do not recall them treating the mayor in any special way. There are stories that are put through the Bengali media are stories where there has been something great delivered or there has been a situation, it is all standard news to me, my Lord.[Page 3070] They would do the same for Rushanara Ali and I am sure they have done the same for John Biggs and other prominent members of the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets.
MR. HOAR: Any part of the Bangladeshi media, no part of it shows special favour to the mayor, do you say.
A. That is my understanding, Mr. Hoar.
Q. Did you read the London Bangla on the first Friday of February?
A. The first Friday of February?
Q. Friday, the 6th or something?A. I cannot remember.
Q. Do you remember that the headline-
MR. PENNY: Which year are you talking about?
MR. HOAR: This year.
THE WITNESS: No, it was not this year, was it, last year.
Q. I am talking about this year actually. Do you remember that the headline was anyone who attacks Lutfur Rahman, attacks all British Bangladeshis; do you remember that headline?
A. I am sorry, I read a lot of newspapers, mainly non-Bengali, so I cannot say I remember that.
Q. Is it fair to say that was more or less sympathetic to Mayor Rahman?
A. Mr. Hoar, I cannot explain the motivations of that newspaper.
Q. Despite all this, and I suggest that the Bangladeshi media is[Page 3071] very much in favour of the mayor, despite all that, nobody thought until you prompted them to put anything on in their newspapers, on their television stations about that comment, nobody thought to do so?
A. Mr. Hoar, just for clarity, I did not want to go about challenging Mr. Biggs for his actions in this way. It was not me that went on the Sunday Politics show and blurted out things that would be hurtful, insulting and very, very damaging for our community. He was given a chance. Iain McNicol failed to act. I then spoke to the Equalities andHuman Rights Commission who, at the time, agreed with me and said I should refer this matter to the police because it could be tantamount to incitement of racial hatred-
Q. We will get to that.
A. Mr. Hoar, I did not do that. I will tell you why later.
Q. We will get to that. But the point is, that is not the question, is it? Because I accepted that they did make a complaint when you prompted them, a lot of people did. We can see, if you wish, the press headlines that that generated, but it was generated by you, the outrage was generated by Tower Hamlets First and, most of all, it was generated by you and the press released you had authorised, was it not?
A. For the record, Mr. Hoar, I acted very independently and, as I have said earlier, I know that the mayor would not have approved of what I did. I knew that I could not act with a Tower Hamlets First hat on, I had to act as Alibor Choudhury the outraged British Bengali who had heard someone very responsible in this community say something super-destructive.
Q. You were happy to e-mail Mr. Biggs on occasion in this period, were you not?
A. Yes, I know. I asked him to retract his comments-
Q. You did that and we can see it at 878 of file F, you did that on 28th February, did you not?
A. That is correct, Mr. Hoar
.Q. Neither you, nor the mayor, nor anybody anyone else in your team thought to e-mail Mr. Biggs before 28th February, some five months after this broadcast; that is right, is it not?
A. Mr. Hoar-
THE COMMISSIONER: Is it right?
THE WITNESS: That is correct.
MR. HOAR: Thank you.
THE WITNESS: There is an explanation, my Lord, if you will let me explain.
THE COMMISSIONER: Yes.
THE WITNESS: My Lord, we had different options to us. We could have gone to the press straightaway, but we did not. The mayor chose in a calm way to deal with this. His action was to go to the General Secretary of the national Labour Party and ask him to intervene. That did not get us anywhere. That was done a month after or several weeks after. We sat on it for a long hoping that John Biggs would see the error of his ways. He refused. Then I went to the EHRC. Then I asked John by e-mail to retract what he said. He did not even have the courtesy or the decency to at least acknowledge my e-mail and say I have received it, I will deal with it .
Q. Is it your evidence, Mr. Choudhury, that you entertained serious expectations that Mr. Biggs or his superiors in the Labour Party would retract what he had said on the SundayPolitics show?
A. My Lord, the bare minimum that I expected was a acknowledgement that this would be investigated properly and there would be a formal response to what Mr. Biggs had done on the Sunday Politics show.
MR. HOAR: Another of the comments you made in your answer to my Lord was this. You were hoping that John Biggs would have the decency to retract his comments. Why not ask him, Mr. Choudhury, directly, directly?
THE WITNESS: Mr. Hoar, how would I do that?
Q. By e-mailing him?
A. I did e-mail him, Mr. Hoar.
Q. You did not until 28th February, some five months after the broadcast, did you?
A. Mr. Hoar, you are clearly not listening to what I am saying.
Q. I am listening.
A. I spoke to his superior, the General Secretary of the national Labour Party; how higher can you get?
Q. You said in answer to my question: Why not ask him? , you said, I did . I then asked you, yes, five months later. You did not ask him directly for five months after this broadcast, did you?
A. Mr. Hoar, for the third or fourth time, my mayor had decided to take this up with the General Secretary of the nationalLabour Party and that obviously did not get us anywhere.
Q. Mr. Choudhury, for the third or fourth time, why not answer my question?
A. I do not know, my Lord.
THE COMMISSIONER: Why was the decision taken to go to the Labour Party itself rather than to the person you saw as the principal offender?
THE WITNESS: My Lord, if anybody knows Mr. Biggs, he can be very arrogant and he can be very brash. What we did not want was a brush off from Mr. Biggs because we felt, particularly I felt, that what he had done was very serious and he needed to understand the implications or the impact of his action. That is why we went high up the chain to get this resolved; and it did not happen.
MR. HOAR: So that we can pin down your answer here, are you suggesting that you did write to John Biggs directly or telephone him before 28th February or are you agreeing with me that you did not?
THE WITNESS: Where did you get the impression that I had emailed him before-
MR. HOAR: Because you are not answering my question, that is why. I am asking you to answer it.
THE COMMISSIONER: Do you accept that you personally did not contact Mr. Biggs personally about this matter until 28th February 2014.
THE WITNESS: That is correct, my Lord.
MR. HOAR: Thank you. Now we can move on, at last. Page 867, the difference-
THE WITNESS: Hold on, please.
Q. The difference, Mr. Choudhury, between 19th February and 30th September is that 19th February was but three months before the election; is that correct or not?
A. It appears to be a fact, Mr. Hoar.
Q. That is why you held on to this outrage for five months, is it not?
A. No, Mr. Hoar. We could have done a lot more damage, if that is what you think we were trying to do, if we had gone to Tower Hamlets straightaway.
THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury, I wonder if you could answer this. Page 86& appears to be dated 19th February 2014.
THE WITNESS: Correct.
Q. It is a press release that is, let us put it neutrally, critical of Mr. Biggs. What purpose did you think it served nine days later to send him one e-mail asking him to retract; by this time you had gone public? Did you really expect in answer to your 28th February e-mail that John Biggs would reply saying, It is a fair cop, I retract everything ?
A. My Lord, I would have appreciated a response at least
.Q. Why should he respond when you have gone public with this press release?
A. My Lord, the intention was to do a bit more than this. If I am perfectly honest, the EHRC actually recommended that I go to the police. I could have gone to the police and reported him for incitement of racial hatred and we would be in a very different place today, if that had happened.
MR. HOAR: Would we?
THE WITNESS: There would be a police report, would there not?
Q. Would we? You think he is guilty of incitement to racial hatred?
A. I am not the police-
Q. Are you accusing him of that criminal offence?
A. I cannot pre-empt that, Mr. Hoar, can I?
Q. Is it your opinion?
A. Can I pre-empt that, Mr. Hoar? I do not think it would be proper to comment-
Q. You can give your opinion. Because, Mr. Choudhury, for this reason: because the only basis on which you could possibly accuse Mr. Biggs of incitement to racial hatred is that comment; so, you can give your opinion to this court about whether he was guilty of it. Please do so.
A. Mr. Hoar, as you have prompted me, I believe what he did was hugely damaging, it was wrong on many levels and he shouldhave corrected the information that I put out in the public domain. He clearly did not do that. He felt this was something trivial, something that he could brush off, something that he clearly thought would not really be considered as damaging for this community.
THE COMMISSIONER: I do not think, Mr. Choudhury, you have actually answered my question. That is this. Why do you send the e-mail on 28th February, demanding a retraction in effect, when you have already gone public with the press release about Mr. Biggs? Surely the time to approach him for a retraction is before the press release so that you can say, I put it to Mr. Biggs, he has retracted and he is terribly sorry , or alternatively, I put it to Mr. Biggs and he told me to take a running jump . Either way, one would have expected this to[Page 3078] happen before you go public. I cannot understand, Mr. Choudhury, and I would be grateful if you would explain, what the point is nine days after the press release writing to Mr. Biggs when you know either you are not going to get an answer at all or you are going to get an unfavourable answer?
THE WITNESS: Thank you, my Lord. It was always our intention to use Iain McNicol to try and address this. So, if his Labour Party superior would get him to apologise or at least to respond to us, then that would have been the ideal situation. As I said earlier, my Lord, I was considering police action.I was considering reporting him to the police for what he said on the Sunday Politics show, based on the advice that I received from the EHRC. Now, before I took that step, which I did not take in the end, I wanted him to apologise or at least explain, my Lord, why he ended up doing what he did on the Sunday Politics show and causing so much discomfort for the Bangladeshi community and for everyone really. It was not really the Bangladeshi community, people were appalled across the spectrum.
Q. If that is right, Mr. Choudhury, why did you not ask him to explain, before issuing a press release, condemning him for what he said on the Sunday Politics show? If he had come up with an explanation, then it might have been different. Why fire first and then ask him for an explanation. I simply do[Page 3079] not understand this, Mr. Choudhury; unless, of course, the e-mail of 28th February is, as it were, intended for the record, rather than intended for a sensible reply?
A. My Lord, so I am clear, there was no political motivation for doing this. He clearly did something which insulted not just myself but a lot people. In hindsight, I will agree with you, my Lord, it would have been wiser for me to e-mail him. But it is clear that there needed to be impetus, there needed to be something that would stimulate a response from Mr. Biggs. Maybe I have got it wrong, maybe tactically I did somethingwhich in hindsight-
MR. HOAR: Tactically, Mr. Choudhury, you were very clever. Do you agree or not? I suggest you were very clever, tactically.
A. I wish I was.
Q. I suggest that you are very clever indeed, Mr. Choudhury, and you know it. Pressure was today mounting , that is the first line of the body of the message. Pressure by whom, and why today, on 19th February 2014?
A. I thought I had already explained that, Mr. Hoar. Pressure from out in the community.
Q. Pressure was today mounting . There was no pressure, other than from you and the broadcast you had kept for five months, was there?
A. If the insinuation is, Mr. Hoar, that I held off so I could[Page 3080] use-
Q. Yes, that is the insinuation.
A. Can I finish, sirfor some political advantage, then you are totally wrong.
Q. You arego on.
A. The purpose of this is to get accountability. I am sure they would do the same thing if we had made a similar statement. So, it was for accountability purposes.
Q. If they had done it, they probably would have done it straightaway, rather than five months later. Can I take youto your quotes, please, Mr. Choudhury? Councillor Choudhury said , second sentence, ;Secondly, John may want to think of me as a foreigner, but I was born here and am as British as he is ‘. You were accusing Mr. Biggs of racist thoughts at least in that, were you not, by thinking of you as a foreigner, despite being a British man?
A. Mr. Hoar, what he did on the Sunday Politics show, for meI am not going to deny thisthere is a sliding scale of racism for me. On one end, you have smears and at the other you have institutional racism. For me, what he did, that act, was racist.
Q. You say that his comments were gleefully used as propaganda by the EDL, and you say later: Biggs ‘ slogan is uniting the East End, but with far right patrols on our streets and bomb threats to the town hall and East London Mosque, his remark is doing the opposite. If that was not stirring up trouble by equating his remarks to bomb threats and far right patrols, what is?
A. Mr. Hoar, what I said there was a statement of fact. These events occurred soon after his unwise comments on the Sunday Politics show. I have just stated the facts.
Q. In your complaint to the EHRC, which was and was intended to be part of-
THE COMMISSIONER: Have I heard any evidence about far rightpatrols on the streets or bomb threats to the town hall and East London Mosque after the broadcast?
MR. HOAR: No, my Lord, we have not.
THE COMMISSIONER: I thought not.
MR. PENNY: There are documents produced by witnesses from whom you have heard evidence in relation to it.
THE COMMISSIONER: After the broadcast?
MR. PENNY: Well-
THE COMMISSIONER: We can look them up.
MR. PENNY: You have the speech from Tommy Robinsonit is 7th September, thoughand the text of it.
THE COMMISSIONER: Yes. But that is the EDL March. We have had that; it has gone.
MR. HOAR: It is not bomb threats, is it?
THE COMMISSIONER: There we are.
THE WITNESS: Sorry, my Lord, may I speak?
THE COMMISSIONER: Yes, of course.
THE WITNESS: My Lord, I producedI think it is somewhere in the bundleI produced a letter from the Council, to basically confirm that there was an evacuation because they received a suspicious package and we were all evacuated and the emergency services got involved, et cetera, et cetera. As for the bomb scare at East London Mosque, it was widely reported in the media, mentioned in (unclear), and Iunderstand that that has also been provided; so, the sequence of events which spring from what Mr. Biggs has said.
MR. HOAR: Hang on. Well, you have reported the comments as being on 22nd September and you have reported the bomb threat as being on the 25th. We may have to look that up overnight. What you do say to the EHRC is that there is a clear appeal to racial prejudice which is equally irresponsible, particularly given the backdrop of tensions around the EDL March which had taken place weeks before the programme and the constant negative press coverage , and you mentioned that bomb threat. The purpose of that is to imply heavily, is it not, that John Biggs ‘ remarks were responsible for that bomb threat and those comments?
A. Mr. Hoar, I was not making those comments flippantly. They[Page 3083] were very serious comments, and the aim of going public with those comments is to highlight the danger and the risk of behaving in such a way.
Q. If they were serious, you would have made them at the time, would you not?
A. They were made soon after, Mr. Hoar.
Q. If you were serious about those comments, they would have been made at the time, would they not?
A. They were made, Mr. Hoar, roughly about that time.
Q. Roughly about that time? Right.
A. You might want to check that.
THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury, I will be corrected if I am wrong here, but I seem to recall that Mr. Rahman said that this press release had been drafted by you.
A. That is correct, my Lord.
Q. And it was?
A. Yes, it was.
THE COMMISSIONER: Thank you.
MR. HOAR: Now, did you show it to the Mayor before you sent it out?
Q. Are you sure about that?
A. Unfortunately, yes.
Q. Why? He racked you over the coals for it, did he; told you off for sending it out, did he?
A. Let ‘s say he was not best pleased.
Q. He was not best pleased. All right.
THE COMMISSIONER: Forgive me, Mr. Choudhury, as I understand it, your explanation of the apparent gap between the broadcast and, as it were, the press release was that the Mayor had said that, as it were, going public was not an appropriate way to deal with it. I fully understand that as an answer. But given that this press release is going public, one would have thought that you would have said to the Mayor, I think weought to go public on this. You have been soft-pedalling for five months. Let ‘s go public. But you do not seem to have run this past the Mayor; is that right?
A. Yes, my Lord.
THE COMMISSIONER: There we are.
MR. HOAR: So, despite the fact that Mr. Rahman was very upset with you for sending out this press release, you were still happy to send out another one on 15th Aprilyou can find it at page 887in which you quote from Mayor Lutfur Rahman himself? That is a bit funny, is it not?
A. Not really, Mr. Hoar. It was done a good two months after. Obviously, by then, the Mayor was aware of what I had done. What did not help was the unresponsiveness from Mr. Biggs and the Labour Party.
THE COMMISSIONER: You were in the middle of an election campaign, Mr. Choudhury. Did you really expect, in the middle of an election campaign, that Mr. Biggs was going to accept any claims which you made, or, indeed, vice versa?
A. Forgive me if I sound naive, my Lord, but I thought that was serious enough to at least prompt a response. Whether he would outright apologise would be pushing it a bit, but I know that we deserved a response or an explanation as to why he did what he did.
MR. HOAR: The thing is, though, you are not naive at all; you area very shrewd political operator, Mr. Choudhury, if I may say so. You can thank me for that or disparage me for that comment, as you wish. Is that fair: are you a shrewd political operator?
A. I would not describe myself that way, Mr. Hoar. You would find that my colleagues and those that know me would not share that view.
Q. You would not share the view?
A. Would not share your view, I meant. Sorry.
Q. It is not my view. It is a question. I am suggesting that you are a shrewd political operator.
A. Mr. Hoar, I would say that I am someone who tries his best to do good by the community that elected me into office and someone who is not fallible. I mean, I make mistakes.[Page 3086]
Q. Except, you are not such a shrewd political operator when you lose your rag; and you did that on 26th February, did you not, when you said, at a full Council meeting, Oswald Mosley had his blackshirts. John Biggs has his black cardigans ? You agree you made that remark; you have accepted it in your witness statement.
A. Regretfully, yes.
Q. Why do you say regretfully ? You have just accused John Biggs of incitement to racial hatred. Why do you regret contrasting him to Oswald Mosley?A. Because I offended a colleague of mine, who at the time was mourning the death of her ex-husband, and it was clearly stupid and insensitive of me to use those words. I mean, I was not aware at the time of her mourning, but-
THE COMMISSIONER: Is the suggestion, therefore, that if this lady had been wearing a black cardigan purely as a fashion statement, your comment would have been justified?
A. My Lord, I have no-
Q. Is the only thing wrong with it that the lady was in mourning, in other words?
A. My Lord, it was a spontaneous comment, and I have obviously since understood the seriousness of what I have said and made an apology, a full apology, to my former colleague, Anne Jackson.[
MR. HOAR: It sounds like that is a yes , does it not? You regret saying it about Councillor Jackson; you regret nothing else about the comment; that is correct, is it not?
A. I said the comment in the context of division. Now, when it came to my mindand like I said, it was a spontaneous reaction from me, maybe not the wisestI thought of Oswald Mosley as a divisive character, and I could compare that division or the act of trying to divide communities with what Mr. Biggs had been doing.
Q. So, you do think it is appropriate to compare John Biggs tothe fascist leader Oswald Mosley, who led race riots in the East End of London? You do, do you not?
A. Let ‘s not over-egg it, Mr. Hoar.
Q. It is not over-egging it.
A. Let ‘s keep it simple. I am saying to you that Oswald Mosley, for me, clearly was an unpleasant person, was someone who was clearly divisive. What John had done, and what John continued to represent for mebecause he clearly had no remorse for what he said on the Sunday Politics show or said anywhere elsesaid the same thing, really.
Q. This is John Biggs, who has spent his entire political career fighting racism, including voluntarily going to Barking and Dagenham, campaigning against the BNP there, campaigning against Derek Beacon, campaigning against racism, and you[Page 3088] think it is appropriate to call him an Oswald Mosley, do you, Mr. Choudhury?
A. Mr. Hoar, have you seen him out campaigning and doing all this wonderful work? Maybe you have. What you will see is this man is not in the front of any demonstration or any action against anybody. He is always in the back, and he is someone, I know, that takes credit for other people ‘s work. He has taken credit for my work. I used to work very hard in St. Dunstan ‘s in my first term in office. He did not do anything, but yet John Biggs was the one who got credit
.Q. You sound rather bitter, if I may say so. Is that fair?
A. I am not happy that he has taken credit for my work, no.
Q. Can I take you, please, to the initial response of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to your complaint. You can find it at F/879, second paragraph: The Commission agrees that you are rightly concerned about the remarks made by the Labour mayoral candidate on the BBC ‘s Sunday Politics show. Before I go on, this was of course sent after the memo in which you enclosed your complaints to the EHRC. It goes on: However, such remarks should more appropriately be reported to the police note reported to the police . While the Commission is the regulator of the Equality Act 2010 for matters concerning discrimination and human rights, incitement to racial hatred is a police matter, as it was made a criminal offence. Similarly, the publication of material that is likely to incite racial hatred may be a criminal offence under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. That was not their last word, was it?
A. No, it was not, Mr. Hoar. My colleaguenot my colleague, sorrya journalist, a right wing journalist, Ted Jeory, decided to intervene; and I can remember the day when I actually spoke to him about this. It was a day, in Stepney, when we were out campaigning.
Q. It was 5th April, was it not?A. Yes, it was.
Q. Saturday, 5th April. Can I ask you about this. I am going to suggest what happened. You were at a rally, and you fell into discussion with Ted Jeory?
A. That is correct.
Q. You mentioned the BBC politics show?
Q. And Ted Jeory said that your comment was a load of bollocks did he not? He said that to you?
A. I think he called me a dickhead or a prick as well.
Q. He did not say that, did he?
A. He did. He did. It is not a problem.
Q. You are happy to make that under the cover of privilege, are you, to make that allegation?
A. It is not a problem. I did not really take offence to it, Mr. Hoar.
Q. He said that you were wilfully misconstruing the comment?
A. I do not remember those words, Mr. Hoar, at all. I remember him saying, Alibor, was it really racism , and I said I felt it was more than that, and I, maybe naively, said, Look, Ted, here is a copy of the letter from the EHRC.
Q. You said so with a look of smugness, did you not?
A. With a look of smugness?
Q. Yes, with a look of smugness.
A. I have nothing to be smug about, Mr. Hoar.
Q. Because you were very smug, were you not, about this letter in March, because you thought it suggested that a hate crime had been committed, or you said that you did?
A. So, why would I feel smug about it, Mr. Hoar? I was quite distressed.
Q. Because you were delighted, delighted, to have this ammunition from the EHRC, were you not?
A. Can you just stop and think a minute, Mr. Hoar? Why would I share that with someone who was a hostile journalist? Why would I be smug-
Q. You have just accepted that you did share it with a hostile journalist, did you not?
A. I sent him a copy of the e-mail.
Q. Exactly. You have just suggested that you did. So, that is not a matter of dispute; you did share it with Ted Jeory?
A. Of course. Absolutely.
Q. You agree that you shared it with Ted Jeory because I am going to take you to the e-mail chain in which Ted Jeory deals with it, Mr. Choudhury. So, when you say, Why would I share it with a right wing journalist , that is exactly what you did?
A. Mr. Hoar, can you rewind back. You said I shared it with some smugness. Why would I be enjoying it as though it is likeI have got ammunition? Why would I give ammunition to a hostile journalist?
Q. Because you were delighted that you had what you thought was this ammunition from the Equality and Human Rights Commission?
A. You have got that very wrong, Mr. Hoar.
Q. There was an e-mailI am going to take you to it, on 882from Ted Jeory to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asking for clarification, and what it says is that He , i.e. you, showed the memo, the letter from the EHRC, to Ted Jeory, to prove that the EHRC agrees with the complaint; and he refers to the sentence, The Commission agrees that you were rightly concerned , inferring that that means he has a case. You then can see what transpires between them. None of these e-mails were sent to you. But you did receive an e-mail, did[Page 3092] you not, on 11th April 2014, which you can find at 886. I am going to take you to that now. Yes?
MR. PENNY: I do not know if there are any questions about that e-mail chain.
MR. HOAR: Do you agree with what I have just said transpired? I am just telling the story and I am asking you to confirm that that is what happened?
A. I can confirm there was an e-mail exchangewell, in so far as Ted had sent me an e-mail
Q. Right. So, this is what you get on 11th-
THE COMMISSIONER: Even an exchange, Mr. Choudhury, indicates that you had forwarded to Mr. Jeory the letter that you had got from the EHRC. Is that correct?
A. That is absolutely correct, my Lord, and I did it in distress and I did it-
MR. HOAR: Distress?
A.- to show him how upset I was and how wrong it was for John to do what he did.
Q. You are a good actor, Mr. Choudhury, but not that good. You did not show any distress when you spoke to Mr. Jeory. Anyway, 886, please, 11th April 2014.
THE COMMISSIONER: Can I just get some dates again? Your press release that we have talked about, John Biggs dividing the East End , is 19th February?
A. It is the first one, my Lord.
Q. And it refers to Mr. Biggs being referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for remarks he made on the Sunday Politics programme?
Q. At the time that press release was issued on 19th February, had you received the reply of 18th February from the EHRC?
A. The reply, my Lord?
MR. HOAR: Sorry, I am slightly lost, my Lord, on that.
THE WITNESS: So am I.
MR. HOAR: 18th February.
A. Yes. So, we get a reply on 21st March, my Lord.
THE COMMISSIONER: 21st March. So, 18th February is your letter to the EHRC?
A. That is correct.
Q. You then go public, saying he has been referred to the Commission?
Q. Before you get any answer from the Commission?
Q. You get answer 1. Mr. Jeory takes it up. You then get answer 2. That is correct?
A. Correct, my Lord.
MR. HOAR: And that answer says this: In our letter, we expressed a view about remarks made by John Biggs on the BBC Sunday Politics broadcast. Mr. Biggs is the Labour mayoral candidate for Tower Hamlets, I have now had the opportunity to review this letter and to discuss it with colleagues. On reassessment, in my view this letter was inaccurate in going outside the remit of the commission and in appearing to proffer an opinion in a situation where, as the letter makes clear, the matter is properly the remit of other authorities who are appropriately placed to address any issues arising.We have noted the content of the BBC broadcast but have no further comments on the matter. That is signed Chief Legal Officer of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. That was the final position of the EHRC before your second memo, which was sent on 15th April, was it not? That was their final word and you knew it was their final word, did you not?
A. Two things. First of all, this was prompted by the intervention of Ted Jeory, who decided to act on behalf of Mr. Biggs. Otherwise, it would not have come. Secondly, the second letter for me did not detract too much from the first letter. It clearly did say that they should not have proffered an opinion. But in my view it still said that if I had felt that John Biggs had made a racially insulting comment, then that should be dealt with by the police.
Q. Can I sorry, your last couple of words, sorry?
A. You want me to repeat them.
Q. Yes, please?
A. I said that it still says that if I felt that there was an incitement to racial hatred offence being committed here, I should take that up with the police.
Q. With the police, that is what I missed and what my learned friend missed. I apologise. Page 195 of your witness statement. Please. I should say of our file R, paragraph 34,please. This is what you said about this in your witness statement. You agree that the press release was issued-
THE COMMISSIONER: Are we going to come on to the release of 15th April, obviously (unclear) of that, are we not?
MR. HOAR: I would rather get at least this memo dealt with. There is one more.
THE COMMISSIONER: I think it is quite late in the afternoon, we are going to go into tomorrow with this witness.
MR. HOAR: Very well. I hoped to make better progress.
THE COMMISSIONER: Well, the witness can stand down for the moment.