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A quick update on the election court hearing. After a break last week, the parties return to Court 38 on Tuesday when the barristers involved will make their closing submissions. Following those, the Commissioner (judge) Richard Mawrey QC will take a couple of weeks to come to his decision and his ruling will come shortly after Easter.

He has already indicated that Cllr Maium Miah will not be named (effectively barring him from office) in any judgement: not because he does not believe or does believe Maium’s evidence, but because he does not consider he was close enough to the action, as it were. That’s to say, he wasn’t a major player as far as these proceedings are concerned.

This leaves only Alibor Choudhury and Mayor Lutfur Rahman as vulnerable in this trial, although it could be the case that evidence heard about others could trigger proceedings elsewhere.

We’ll have to wait and see.

baroness uddin

In the meantime, as there’s been something of an information deficit from this quarter over the past couple of weeks, I thought I’d overload you. The transcript from the last day the court sat on good old Friday the thirteenth suggests that Baroness Pola Uddin didn’t have luck on her side.

She was called as a witness by Lutfur’s barrister, Duncan Penny QC, not so much to support the mayor (someone she says in evidence she doesn’t have an awful lot of time for), but to try and corroborate allegation against John Biggs. They were “colleagues” in the ever-so-rosy Labour administration of the Nineties (has Tower Hamlets ever been functional?) when John was briefly leader and she his deputy. At that time there were plots to unseat the former.

All history of course, but allegedly relevant to this case. However, I wonder whether Baroness Uddin was quite prepared for the cross-examination she received from the petitioners’ barrister Francis Hoar. I got the sense from reading the transcript that she wasn’t expecting to be asked about her dodgy recent record on House of Lords expenses, or about the BMW car she was given by the convicted insurance fraudster and Channel S founder Md Mahee Jalil Ferdhaus (or Ferdous). At times I think she was expecting the sort of sedate affair you get in the Lords, where tempers rarely fray and where the Speaker can be relied on to ensure the airs and graces of peers are maintained and respected.

Court 38, the House of Lords it was not.

But first, here’s a quick extract from John Biggs’ second appearance in the witness stand, where he is cross-examined again by Duncan Penny about that Sunday Politics show quote.

Q. Do you make provocative remarks?

A. I am described by some as a pugnacious politician. I was talking to a friend the other day who said he was horrified at the suggestion I am a racist and said that I could be described as an equal opportunities pugnacious politician in that I am equally forthright with people from all backgrounds. I think with time maybe I recognise that people have different sensitivities and I am a lot more sensitive now than I was when I was leader 20 years ago.

Q. You accepted last time that so far as the remarks you made in 13 September 2013 are concerned, you regret them inasmuch as you accept that you can see that they may have upset some people.

A. I think I regret them more in that they have been open to misinterpretation in this rather tenuous spinning by your client and indeed, in my view, by yourself.

Q. You said that last time. I am more interested in you. Let us stick with you for the time being. Do you regret the fact that you might have upset some people? What about your own view about that? Let us forget about what Lutfur Rahman’s team have done.

A. I do not believe, when I looked at the evidence — and I did sit in on Alibor Choudhury’s appearances in the court — and I was quite shocked at his assertions of being hurt given that there was such a great time elapse between his apparent hurt and his use of the information.

Q. Surely you are not trying not to answer my question, Mr. Biggs, are you?

A. I think —-

Q. I asked you about you.

A. I think in life there are many questions to which the answer is not yes or no. If you want to repeat your question, we have all afternoon, I believe.

Q. Is it “Je ne regrette rien” for you?

A. As I said previously, we all make our bed and we lie in it, do we not?

Q. That is not an answer, is it?

A. No, it is not the answer you want me to give, but it is an answer.

Q. I just want the truth.

A. Indeed, so do I.

I quite like that attitude.

The full transcript of the day’s hearings is here: Erlam & Others v Rahman & Williams – Proceedings 13.03.15 – Day 29.

But back to Baroness Uddin’s guest appearance. Background on her dubious expenses history can be read here. The Sunday Times article about how she exchanged a “battered” Honda reportedly worth £300 for a £20,000 BMW X5 (via Mahee Jalil Ferdhaus/Ferdous) is here.

And her denial that she’d ever driven a battered car in her life is in the transcript below.

The judge’s interventions when she asks whether she has really has to answer questions are particularly worth reading. As is the statement by her that she no longer must pay back many of the expenses she wrongly claimed.

Enjoy. (And thanks again to Mark Baynes of Love Wapping for doing a data clean up on the transcript text for me.)

BARONESS UDDIN CROSS-EXAMINED BY MR. HOAR

MR. HOAR:  Lady Uddin, I am going to take you, firstly, before I get to your witness statement, to a report.  I wonder if your Lordship has it.  It is a report by the House of Lords.

THE COMMISSIONER:  No.

MR. HOAR:  There are copies, actually.  My learned friend has a copy.  There is a copy for the witness there.  (Same handed)

THE COMMISSIONER:  It is from the Parliament website.  Yes.

MR. HOAR:  I do not know whether the witness has it.  I do not think she does.  (Same handed)

I am just going to take you, if I may, to relevant   passages.  The report was published as a result of and was the conclusion of an investigation into your claims for expenses; that is correct, is it not?

A.  My allowances, yes.  Yes, it was.

Q.  Can I take you, firstly — now, you will see that there are page references, which are the internet copy page references, at the top right-hand corner.  Do you see that?  So, page 1 of 14, 3 of 14, and so on.

A.  Okay.

Q.  Could I take you, first of all, to page 3 of 14, paragraph 23. This describes the resolutions of the House of Lords with regards to allowances, as you describe them, or expenses, as they describe them.  The resolution includes, “1(a) expenses incurred for the purpose of attendance at sittings of the House at committees; (b) expenses incurred” —-

A.  My Lord —-

Q.  No.

A.  Mr. Hoar, may I — I do not understand what reference you make to this and the statement that I have made, and you should

have made that quite clear.

Q.  Baroness Uddin, you will answer my questions unless there is an objection, and I have not asked one yet.  If you are not following the reference, then that is another matter.  But firstly, you will answer my questions, Lady Uddin.  All right?

A.  My Lord, then I am asking for clarification, my Lord.

Q.  Paragraph 23, 1(a) and (b).

THE COMMISSIONER:  I am afraid that Council for the petitioners is perfectly entitled to cross-examine you as to this report,

Lady Uddin.  He is not obliged to keep his cross-examination to within the four corners of your witness statement.  I am afraid, therefore, that at the moment his questions are  proper, and you will answer them.

MR. HOAR:  Thank you.  Does it say that “expenses can be claimed, if incurred, for the purposes of attendance at sittings of the House”; does it say that?

A.  I have not read at this moment.

Q.  I am asking you to read paragraph 23, 1(a), Lady Uddin; page 3 of 14.

A. 23(a), I am reading that, and I have read it.

Q. Indeed. Does it say “expenses incurred in staying overnight away from their only or main residence where it is necessary to do so for that purpose”?

A. It does say that.

Q. Is that your understanding of the House of Lords rules so far as expenses are concerned?

A. Is that your first question?

Q. No. It is about my fifth one. Is that the case, Lady Uddin?

A. What is the case, Mr. Hoar?

Q. Is it the case that those are the rules, and do you agree that those are the rules for expenses in the House of Lords?

A. My Lord, in response to Mr. Hoar’s question, I would suggest that the whole matter in relation to the —-

Q. Are you answering my question or not?

A. I am, Mr. Hoar.

Q. It does not sound like you are.

A. I am, Mr. Hoar.

THE COMMISSIONER: Let her answer first.

THE WITNESS: You should allow me to finish.

THE COMMISSIONER: Let me have her answer first. Do continue.

A. I would say, and clearly Mr. Hoar has found the details from public records, and the matter of this subcommittee is a matter of record, and I do say that it has been something that I have already answered in the House of Lords, and this is not a matter of contest.

MR. HOAR:  I think his Lordship has just told you that you will answer my questions.

A.  My Lord, I am —-

MR. PENNY:  Please, please.

THE WITNESS:  I am answering, my Lord.

MR. HOAR:  You are not answering my questions.

A.  My Lord, I am answering, and I am making the point that —-

Q. You are not —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Let her finish her answer.

THE WITNESS:  I am making the point, my Lord, that everything in these few pages, and many other pages, is there for public    record. It has been hashed and rehashed, and I have answered all the details; and I am not aware that any of these matters are of any relevance to either my statement or the matter before the court, my Lord.

MR. HOAR:  Have you finished?

A. I have.

Q.  Can I now ask a question, because I am going to rehash it for you, unfortunately, and his Lordship has just indicated thatI may do that.  So, Lady Uddin, can you please answer the question that I asked, which was simply this: does the passage that I just read out accurately explain the rules for expenses in the House of Lords — yes or no?

A.  My Lord, I would say that I would simply refer to my answers as stated in the report, as is available.

Q. Does the —-

A.  And Mr. —-

Q.  — passage I read out accurately explain the rules for expenses in the House of Lords, Lady Uddin — yes or no?

A.  Mr. Hoar, Mr. Hoar, you shouting at me will make no difference to what I have to say, which is —-

Q.  I will ask it a fourth time, a fourth time then.

THE COMMISSIONER: No. Wait a minute. Lady Uddin.

A. Yes, my Lord.

Q.  I appreciate you resent this line of questioning.

A.  I do not, my Lord.

Q.  Well, you have made it very clear that you do.  You are asked a very simple question.  The report that we have from the House of Lords quotes verbatim the resolution of the House in relation to day and night subsistence.  They have been read to you by Mr. Hoar, and he has asked you the very simple question: do you accept that they are, or were at the

relevant time, the rules relating to day and night subsistence?

A.  My Lord, may I please again restate what I have said.  Given that Mr. Hoar and the court itself has access to these  details, he will know that I answered these questions in detail, my Lord, in the reports, and I merely make reference to whatever I had said.  Given that I had no knowledge that Mr. Hoar would be, or the court would be, asking these

irrelevant matters here, then I would have been more prepared with all the things that I may have said in relation to these details, my Lord.

Q.  The only question you have been asked to date on this matter, Lady Uddin, is whether you accept that the rule as read out by Mr. Hoar is, in fact, the rule of the House of Lords.  That is  the only question you have been asked so far, and it is a question which we have not yet had an answer to.

A.  My Lord, you will know from the report that is here before you, and the court will know and Mr. Hoar will know, the whole report details what I had said or not at the time.  If this is presented to me in the way of simply asking me to clarify whether this was the rule —-

MR. HOAR:  Are you refusing to answer his Lordship’s question — because it sounds to me like you are —-

A.  Absolutely not, my Lord.

Q.  —- to answer his Lordship’s question.  So, perhaps I will give you another opportunity — number 7, I think.

Lady Uddin, did the passage that I read out at page 3 of 14 of this report, paragraph 23 of the report, accurately, accurately represent the rules for expenses in the House of Lords — yes or no?

A.  It is, as stated by the rule —-

Q.  Thank you.  So, yes. I am going to turn to paragraph 4.4, night subsistence; and you can answer my questions or not, as you wish, but you may want to answer them.  Night subsistence, 4.4.1:  “Members whose main residence is outside Greater London may claim for expenses of overnight accommodation in London”.  Do you agree that that is the rule?

A.  Yes, my Lord.

Q.  “While away from their own main residence”; do you agree that that is the rule?

A.  My Lord, yes, I agree that that was the rule.

Q.  Thank you.  “4.4.3.  Claims for night subsistence are only permissible in respect of nights actually spent in London either immediately preceding or following attendance at a sitting or meeting described”; do you agree that that is the rule?

A.  Yes, my Lord.

Q.  Thank you.

A.  It was as stated in the Committee.

Q.  “Lady Uddin’s designated main residence”, page 5 of 14, paragraph 34.  You designated three main residences, did you not, between 3rd May 2005 and 12th April 2010, did you not?

A.  Yes, my Lord.  It is a matter for record, my Lord.

Q.  Yes.  Up until 1st August, it was a property in Frinton-on-Sea in Essex, was it not?

A.  My Lord, it is as on record.

Q.  And in the record to which you refer, the House of Lords finding was this.  Paragraph 36, third line down:  “From the data held, it appears that Lady Uddin claimed night subsistence, day subsistence, office costs and the mileage allowance for weekly journeys by car and to Frinton almost

every weekend when the House was sitting for the period May to July 2005″.  Do you agree that that is true?

A.  That is as stated in public record, my Lord.

Q.  Thank you.  Paragraph 39:  “In relation to the Frinton property, the police did not investigate this period”, but the Sunday Times interviewed your sister-in-law, who had lived at the property since 1999.  She could not recall you ever having lived at the property.  Is that true, that you never lived at

that property?

A.  My Lord, both myself and my sister-in-law subsequently contested and challenged this statement.

Q.  Yes.  You said she had been terrified by the journalist, and so lied; that is what you said about that, is it not?

A.  No, I did not say that, my Lord.  We both said that that was not as was presented to us, and we have challenged that in —-

Q. It says —-

A.  —- in the Privilege and Conduct Committee, my Lord, and that is also on public record.

Q.  What have they ruled about that?

A.  Pardon?

Q. What has the Privilege and Conduct Committee ruled about that challenge, Lady Uddin?

A.  And we disagree, my Lord.

Q.  You disagree with their decision, do you not?  Very well.

A.  Mr. Hoar — my Lord, Mr. Hoar is well aware that we challenged that decision.

Q.  And they did not agree with your challenge?

A.  That is the right of the Conduct Committee.

Q.  You challenged it, and they did not agree with your challenge?

A.  My Lord, that is the right of the Conduct Committee.

Q.  So, you had claimed, for a period of six years, mileage expenses that you did not use and costs for living away from your main home, when you never lived in the property in Frinton-on-Sea, in Essex, did you not?

A.  Mr. Hoar, my Lord, that is not, as my statement had said —-

Q. No, it is not, is it?

A.  I have contested this proposition consistently, my Lord, all the way to the appeals.

Q. And you have lost every time, have you not, Lady Uddin, because you had to repay the expenses; and this report is the result of the investigation, is it not?

A. My Lord, you will be aware that the police did not pursue this case. The Crown Prosecution Service did not feel able to substantiate their cases, and the Conduct and Privilege Committee did, however, find —-

Q. Against you?

A. Yes.

Q. Facts relating to your Maidstone property to which you claimed to move in 2005 —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Well, we have the —-

MR. HOAR: You do have the report. I will go through it very briefly then.

THE COMMISSIONER: We have the report. I do not think you need to go through it, because we have the conclusions that the

Committee came to on all these matters.

MR. HOAR: I just want to ask you about one particular thing. Between 23rd August 2007 and 9th June —-

A. 2000 and —-

Q. Sorry. I am going to get that more accurately.

A. Please.

Q. Between 23rd August 2007 —-

A.  Hang on.  23rd August?

Q.  Yes, 2007, and 9th June 2005, in your flat in Maidstone —-

A.  9th June 2005? Q.  2008.

A.  You said 2005.

Q.  I did.  My apologies.  I meant 2008.  One year.  Did you ever cook in your flat?

A.  My Lord, any questions related to this matter and of my occupation in 2005 onwards, in the Cheynes in Maidstone, was replied to and is for matters of public record in detail,

my Lord.

Q.  Did you cook —-

A.  And I hope that you will accept, my Lord, that this is not the place for me to repeat my statements, details of which I do not have access right now.

Q.  Did you cook —-

A.  And I hope, my Lord, that you will —-

Q.  Did you cook —-

A.  —- intervene in this matter, to —-

THE COMMISSIONER:  Lady Uddin, we have the report in front of us, and I have indicated to Mr. Hoar that he is not going to go into it in great detail.  But harsh though it may seem, is it not right to say that in a number of specific instances, the Committee (rightly or wrongly) decided that you had not acted in good faith?

A. My Lord, that is absolutely correct that the Committee made that decision, and that is for public record, my Lord; and I am not able to contest that. I am not able to discuss any further details without looking at what was said during —-

MR. HOAR: Lady Uddin —-

A. —- a long and elaborate process, my Lord. Therefore, I am not able to assist, Mr. Hoar —-

Q. You are able to assist —-

A. —- in this way.

Q. —- because you remember, and I am asking you a very, very, very simple question, which is this. In that year-long period, practically a year, between 23rd August 2007 and 9th June 2008, did you ever cook in your property in Maidstone?

A. My Lord, Mr. Hoar, if he has looked at the details, he will know and realise that I answered those questions in detail that I had lived there during the weekend —-

Q. I am asking you if you cooked there in that period. Did you cook there?

A. If, my Lord, you live in a property, then of course you have to eat —-

Q. Right. So, that is a “yes”. Thank you. Does that mean that you washed —-

MR. PENNY: I mean, really. I am not for a moment seeking to prevent the cross-examination.  Do not get me wrong. But the behaviour is unacceptable.

MR. HOAR: No, it is not. The behaviour of the witness is unacceptable.

MR. PENNY: It is discourteous, it is unprofessional.

MR. HOAR: The witness is refusing to answer questions.

MR. PENNY: No, no.  It is not the way it should be done.

THE COMMISSIONER: It must have been obvious to anyone deciding to call Lady Uddin that she would be open to cross-examination —-

MR. PENNY: Of course.

THE COMMISSIONER: —- on the extremely damaging and adverse findings made by the House of Lords Committee.

MR. PENNY: Of course.

THE COMMISSIONER: Therefore, anybody tendering her as a witness must, I think, be taken to have undertaken that risk.

MR. PENNY: Of course.  I do not dispute that.

THE COMMISSIONER: I am not particularly interested in whether Lady Uddin did or did not cook in the Maidstone property, because I have the findings of the Committee as to whether or   not her claims in respect of the Maidstone property were made    in good faith; and the Committee, I am afraid, took an adverse view on that.

THE WITNESS: Yes, my Lord.

MR. PENNY: The point I am trying to make, my Lord — and I am sorry, I do want to repeat it, because, obviously, this is again taking place in public — is that this should not take place, or this should not be done in a discourteous, impolite and unprofessional manner.

MR. HOAR: I totally reject that allegation, which my learned friend is far too ready to make.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, Mr. Hoar —-

MR. HOAR: The questions I have asked have been entirely proper, and the witness has failed to answer them time and time again.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, given that this is cross-examination as to credit —-

MR. HOAR: There is a particular reason why I want to ask these particular questions. So, I really object to my learned friend standing up and stopping me asking them and the witness refusing to answer them. She said she cooked. (To the  witness) Does that mean that you washed your food? Did you wash your food when you were cooking?

A. My Lord —-

Q. There is a reason I ask this question, for what it is worth.

A. My Lord, I have made every effort to respond to Mr. Hoar in the most polite and in the most respectful manner to

your Lordship, and I have been quite clear that I have, as I have said to the Conduct Committee, that I had been there, I stayed there during the weekend, often on my own, when I did, of course, and sometimes —-

Q. Okay. Thank you.

A. —- sometimes I cook, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes

I washed, sometimes I didn’t, my Lord. Actually, those who are not very familiar, my Lord, with Maidstone, it is a very wonderful place, where many people come, to stay out, live out, go out in the evening, enjoy, and it is access to good restaurants, good —-

Q. Lady Uddin, can you answer my question, please, rather than going on and digressing about Maidstone?

A. I am, my Lord. I hope you will appreciate the details —-

Q. So, you have agreed that you cooked, you washed your food, you washed on occasion —-

A. Sometimes I did, occasionally.

Q. —- in that annual period?

A. Yes.

Q. Why is it then, if you look at page 8 of 14, that in the period between 23rd August 2007 and 9th June 2008, you used no water at all in that property? Why is that?

A. My Lord, we challenged this, and we challenged it at the Committee, and we challenged Southern Water, and you will accept, my Lord, that there was a thorough investigation on this by the police and they found it wanting, my Lord. I can say no more. I cannot elucidate, Mr. Hoar, on this point any further, my Lord, or the court, except to say that I answered those questions and I challenged what was presented to me.

Q.  And you failed —-

A.  My Lord, if I may just finish?  Also, you will appreciate, my Lord, that in the Conduct Committee, I had no ability to challenge anything that was presented to me.  We were not allowed to cross-examine any so-called witnesses that were presented.  It was deeply difficult in that sense to actually call, as you have called me, Mr. Hoar, today —-

Q.  Do you challenge — I have not called you, Lady Uddin.  Do you challenge that meter reading?

A.  My Lord —-

Q.  Do you challenge the meter reading, Lady Uddin?

A.  My Lord, yes, we did indeed.

Q.  You did?

A.  We did indeed.

Q.  What happened when you challenged the meter reading?

A.  My Lord, they were not able to provide the record, as the water company, I believe, had gone through some transition and changed companies.  It was not for us not wanting to be able    to address these issues.  In fact, my Lord, we wanted to challenge the witnesses, and we were not able to do that, due to the Conduct Committee’s procedure and processes.

Q. Now, the Conduct Committee —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Do you accept, Lady Uddin, that the Committee came to the conclusion that you had not been using Maidstone as your principal residence and that the claims that you had made in respect of that property were, therefore, wrong and should be repaid?

A. Yes, my Lord.  You are absolutely correct in that suggestion, and public record stipulates that. My Lord, I only want to make this one point, that, repeatedly, I implored the Committee to accept what I had said, my Lord; and without going into great deal of details of my own personal circumstances — and I do not wish to repeat those here,   either — I want to say that it was a very extremely difficult situation and I dealt with it in the best way I could, making sure that I protected my family, and, also, in the absence of the fact, my Lord, that I was not able to challenge any witnesses or statements.

MR. HOAR: Lady Uddin, at pages 7 to 14 you see accounts, your neighbours’ accounts —-

A. Sorry?

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, I have indicated that I have read this report. I do not think that you need take it any further on any questions of credit. It is there for good or ill.

MR. HOAR: I am just going to summarise the proposition, which is this, that for approximately 10 years, every week – or possibly month, if it is done monthly — you put in expenses claims for travel and for housing allowances that were false and fraudulent for 10 years, did you not?

A. My Lord, I have refuted that. I have challenged it. I have stood against the proposition that this was so. I have never, never, in my entire professional career, ever broken any stated rules. The rules under which the Conduct Committee subsequently pursued my conduct in the Subcommittee of Conduct and Privilege was specifically designed to deal with this. No    such rules had been applicable at the time, and I believe — and to this day, my Lord, I believe that I correctly followed the rules of the House, as stated at the time.

Q. In 2010, Baroness Uddin, you drove a Honda vehicle, a small Honda vehicle, into a garage, and you drove out with a BMW, two years old, worth £20,000; is that true?

A. My Lord, I traded my car, which I had purchased from new, which was valued around £8,000 to £9,000, and I then had bought from a friend a car —-

Q. Did you declare it as a gift on the register of Lords interests?

A. My Lord, I have never, ever in my entire driving period ever received a free car from anyone. That is also a matter of public record, my Lord.

Q.  Did you pay for this car then?  Did you pay for the part exchange?  Did you pay the difference between the value of your old Honda and the BMW?

A.  I believe I was asked to pay, I believe it was about £3,500—-

Q.  Did that represent the full commercial value of the difference between the £300 worth Honda and the £20,000 worth BMW?

A.  My Lord, I believed at the time and I had not checked the value of the cars, simply just as I bought my Honda before. I had went into a garage, I asked them what the value was. I did not look it up.  I said this is the value.  I paid for

it.  In a similar vein, I did the same thing to my BMW, which in fact one gone wrong very soon, two and half years only and I had to then exchange it again for a different car, which I am currently now driving.

Q.  Was the garage at which you did this part exchange owned by Mohammed Furdhouse?

A.  Yes, I think his partner.

Q.  Was he the owner of Channel S?

A.  Yes, I believe.

Q.  Did you therefore received a gift worth over £10,000, more like £15,000 from Mohammed Ferdous, owner of Channel S, which you did not declare to the House of Lords?

A. My Lord, I have just repeated what I have said before in the Conduct Committee, my Lord, I did not receive a gift from anyone in the way of a car ever.  Had I have done so, I would have indeed gone to the House of Lords to enquire whether   I needed to register.  You will note, I hope, my Lord, that

I regularly update my register and I have an extremely cordial relationship with the register all throughout the period and

I do not think there has been ever any questions raised about my conduct as far as registration is concerned.

Q.  You are aware, are you not, that actually that was raised in a Sunday Times article, whether you like it or not and whether you think it was justified or not, it was raised in the Sunday Times in 2010, was it not?

A.  My Lord, you will appreciate that newspapers will sensationalise things, they will connect things for their own purposes; and much of which, not just in my case, but others have been discredited since and I think we should all be cautious how much we pay attention to what newspapers say as the only truth, my Lord.

Q.  You have just accepted everything the Sunday Times alleged, have you not, that you drove into a garage with a battered old Honda, you drove out with a BMW, there was considerable value of the cars and you did not declare it to the House of Lords —-

A. My Lord, without discourteous to your Lordship or Mr. Hoar, I would request that maybe somebody who is taking notes may just repeat on my behalf what I have just said to Mr. Hoar, which was not and not, I repeat, my Lord, a tattered Honda.

I have never driven tattered cars, my Lord.  I have paid for them duly out of my earnings. And, my Lord, I exchange one car for another.  I paid what was asked of me, my Lord.

I subsequently re-traded that car from the same garage and bought another. And, indeed, I did not pay anything and

I thought that I was rather done by, in that sense because by that time I had become much more wiser about enquiring what the value of a car should be.

Q. Can I take you to paragraph 6 of your witness statement, please.

A. Mr. Hoar, my Lord, are we done with this?

THE COMMISSIONER: I would be happier if you allowed the questions to be asked to you, not by you.

MR. HOAR: You know perfectly well you are here to answer questions, not ask them, do you not?

THE WITNESS: Mr. Hoar, please refrain from shouting at me and I hope you will respect that I am being extremely cooperative

with you.

Q. Lady Uddin, I suggest you are doing everything in your power to obfuscate and not answer questions and that you have done that since the start of you going into the witness box. That is the truth, is it not?

A.  My Lord, I do not understand how powers are divided in this instance, my Lord, when I am in the witness box and you are standing there shouting at me, Mr. Hoar.

Q.  I have not shouted at you.  I have put propositions and questions which you have failed to answer because you are uncomfortable about the truth of your lies and fraud.  That is the truth, is it not?

A.  My Lord, I have always stated that I have never lied about my circumstances or in the way in which I claimed my allowances and I have never lied about my cars, and I am here to give answers to the best of my ability.  And, my Lord, I do hope  that you will accept that I am doing everything I can to   answer the questions, maybe not at this pace that you are asking, Mr. Hoar, but I am doing my best.

Q.  Paragraph 6.

A.  Yes, Mr. Hoar I am looking at it.

Q.  You said, second sentence:  “On a number of occasions I had also made it clear within the Labour Group that as a deputy leader I was not included or consulted about major policy issues and decisions.”  That is what you have said.  You have said that John Biggs was not a team player.  You have also said, in the next paragraph, that there were concerns expressed by other members that he had continued to work closely with senior officers in the council who had remained from the previous Liberal Democrat legacy.  None of those complaints are anything more than a complaint about the manner of John Biggs, his leadership; is that right?

A.  Sorry, you are asking me to confirm the statement that —-

Q.  I have just done that.  I have asked you to comment on my suggestion which is this: those two sentences do not nothing more than complain about the manner in which John Biggs discharged his leadership of the Labour Group?

A.  Okay.

Q.  Is that right or not?

A.  The reason I made this comment in particular was in the light of the fact that I was asked by the respondent lawyer what was my relationship with Mr. Biggs.  And in which I said that it had increasingly become fraught over the period —-

Q.  Fraught over the period, A-U-G-H-T; yes?

A.  Difficult, yes.

Q.  Just clarifying.

A.  Increasingly difficult and I had said that because of my own experience and, of course, it is not — I merely do not make that point about his manner.  I was speaking specially about

– maybe I could, Mr. Hoar, my Lord, maybe I could give a couple of examples —-

Q.  Lady Uddin, please try for a change to answer my question, which is simply this. You have heard the two sentences I have read.  The question I ask is this.  Are those two questions,   that John Biggs was not a team player, there were concerns expressed my members he had continued to work closely with senior officers in the council who had remained, are those two sentences no more than criticisms of his manner of leadership; yes or no?

A. My Lord, they are more than criticisms of his manner and leadership.  It was simply about the way in which he worked as a leader. And the example which I would, with your permission, like to give is, for instance, I mean, we had just won the office, having fought an extremely difficult period,  we had come on with an antiracist agenda trying to unit the community together. It seemed that the leadership would be collected, involving the wider parties and would reduce the kind of division that had been created over a long period of time —-

Q.  Lady Uddin, you have gone on for long enough now.  Can you please answer the question that I asked.  Those two sentences do not do more than criticise the manner of John Biggs’ leadership; is that true or not?

A.  My Lord, I was making some attempt to explain that it was more than a manner, that it was about the way in which he worked, whether it was about restructuring of the committees, whether it is about the allocations of restructuring of staffing,   whether it was about a simulation of staff, whether it was about funding of the organisation.  He did not involve the

wider councillors, numbers of councillors who were extremely talented and very often he worked on his own and particularly I was not often involved in some of his leading discussions.

Q.  Lady Uddin, does not that just prove what I have just asked, which is no more than this, that you were only concerned with the manner of John Biggs’ leadership and nothing more?  Can I ask about this.  You say that you criticised John Biggs for working closely with senior officers in the council who had remained; is that not the job of any leader of the group in    any borough council, to work closely with officers?

A.  My Lord, what I would say is of course I have great and high expectation of John Biggs.  That is the only reason I joined him as his deputy.  But I very soon came to realise – may I carry on.  So, therefore, of course, it would have been a    great surprise that he refused to then work in a collective manner, I came from a background, a profession where I had to work collectively although I led my team.  The idea when you are leading a team that you work collectively to achieve the objects, which collectively as a group of councillors we came to deliver.

Q. Can I ask you to turn back to paragraph 5, please, the fifth line down: “During this period” — that is 1994-5 — he was

known to make throwaway comments and provocative comments”, that is what John Biggs does, he makes throwaway comments and provocative comments, that is his character, is it not; that is who he is?

A. Indeed, you make a very important point. Throwaway comments, such as the Bengali mafia or throwaway comments such as the comments which had been attributed to him on numerous  occasions that he was frustrated, he was angry, he was agitated, he was not willing to reflect other people’s point

of view, are not just throwaway comments and you throw them away and people can languish with their pain. Throwaway comments should be about — yes, I am just saying, I am really unhappy about this, and that does not impact or linger on in people’s lives, Mr. Hoar.

Q. Notwithstanding that you came here to trash John Biggs’ reputation, which I suggest you did, you never mentioned the Bengali mafia comment, which you have just made up, have you not?

A. My Lord, I have — not one word of what I say is made up. The term Bengali mafia was well-known and often repeated by John and others. I often used to respond in that saying that I found it really deeply offensive because they were our colleagues and, of course, political differences aside, we all have political differences with each other, but not to be offensive. I certainly did not come here to trash Mr. Biggs, because I chose to become his deputy. And the reason I came here, Mr. Hoar and my Lord, I was — my name I believed had been mentioned several times in the context of the fax. And  in the same article you will note, Mr. Hoar, my Lord, I said that I had been deeply concerned over a long period of time about the impact of racism within the Labour Party and the hierarchy should be examining that. I had been concerned about that, especially given that we had come in to a new office as Labour Party members trying to rid the fascism that we experienced and the people of the borough had experienced at the hand of, then the Liberal focused council.

THE COMMISSIONER: Where you aware, I will be corrected if I am wrong, the only mention of your name hitherto in this case has   been as the person in whose name a forged fax was sent? So, you were, as it were, the innocent victim of a forgery. That, as I understand it, is the only context in which your name has been hitherto raised in this case.

MR. PENNY: My Lord, I think it is right to say that I, so to speak, relied on this document on its face as well in cross-examining other witnesses.

THE COMMISSIONER: You did and you have accepted that was a mistake.

MR. PENNY: Because the Baroness, who is here to trash Mr. Biggs, reputation has told that I got it wrong.

THE COMMISSIONER: That is true. If the only need was to correct that, I just wondered what might be the purpose of this lady coming.

MR. PENNY: I do not know if you have seen Mr. Biggs’ witness statement. I was asked to make a concession, which I did not have any basis for. The witness was seen and the concession has been forthcoming.

THE COMMISSIONER: It does not necessarily follow from that you have to call evidence.

MR. PENNY: That is true. Evidence comes into the hands of parties in all sorts of ways, as your Lordship appreciates.

THE COMMISSIONER: I fully appreciate that, yes.

THE WITNESS: My Lord, may I respond to the point that you made. You are absolutely right, the respondent lawyers did ask me about that and I made it quite clear that to this day I do not know frankly who sent the fax, except of course there were a lot of allegations flying around. In addition to this, I was also asked a couple of other questions, including some comments that Mr. Biggs had subsequently made on the Politics Show, so I responded in that; so, of course, I did not deliberately come to this court or to the respondent or his lawyer, but they had asked me and I said yes, I am absolutely okay to do that. Absolutely knowing that I was taking a risk, that Mr. Hoar would indeed touch on the privilege and conduct report which I felt absolutely that I could answer, because it   is a matter of public record.

THE COMMISSIONER: Are you still a member of the Labour Party, Lady Uddin?

THE WITNESS: I am, my Lord. I pay monthly subscriptions to the Labour Party, I have been since my early teens.

Q. Do you hold the Party Whip in the Lords?

A. I have not gone and taken the Party Whip as yet, my Lord, because I have rather enjoyed the independence after a very long time in the House of Lords. I have not sought any application.

Q. Can I ask one thing I should have asked at the time. The end of the Privilege Committee report asked you to pay a sum of money back.

A. I did.

Q. Has that all now been repaid?

A. No, I have longer to repay that, my Lord.

Q. There is a mention of suspending you from service, has that been —-

A. No, I returned in 2012, my Lord, and I have been a member of the Lords since.

THE COMMISSIONER: Yes, I see.

MR. HOAR: After being suspended for three years and having to pay back £124,000 —-

THE WITNESS: My Lord, may I correct —-

Q. —- or is the Parliamentary report wrong on that?

A. My Lord, may I correct that. I was suspended between 2010 and March 2012 and I returned there in the end of April, my Lord, April 2012.

Q. Can I take you back to the statement, paragraph 6, because you make those two sentences about John Biggs not being a team player and complaining that he was working with senior officers in the council. Then you said this: “It was and is

my view that there was an underlying assumption that many Bengali councillors did not have the sufficient knowledge, competence or understanding”, this is just an assumption of yours, not about Mr. Biggs but more generally, is it not?

A. I think — I do not have the public records available here but both Mr. Biggs and others will have kept records of detailed conversations, very difficult, conversation meetings which ran into arguments, disarray about these matters, my Lord.   Because we came to office on the basis that the Labour Party will dismantle what was regarded and accepted publicly both by the Liberal National Party as well — that much of the   behaviour of the past Liberal regime was fermenting undertone of racism and racist practice.  It was operated by largely staff that had no connections or any compliance or understanding of the Labour values.  So, of course, all the councillors came in thinking we will now dismantle, not only dismantle any ideas of racism or any undertone of discrimination, whether it was in the housing policies or whether it was about staffing.  And in the context that the borough was highly diverse, the population of the staffing members did not reflect this, my Lord.  So, of course, we had ambition to change this and so the idea then that John Biggs and I or any of the senior managers would simply go in hand in hand working with the same officers was deeply controversial among the Labour group, not just me.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Was your suggestion this, that they should all be sacked.

A.  No, my Lord.  That they should be talked, they should find out

– just as any senior officer.

MR. HOAR:  Is that proper to talk to them in a political way from a member?

THE WITNESS:  My Lord, many political advisers often change with administration and they are either assimilated and the notion of assimilation of staffing was rampant amongst our .  How do we make sure that the staff who implemented the then policies of the Liberal focus regime, which we challenged and then how do we implement Labour Party policy. We had the assumption that it would be done extremely properly and extremely fairly with due regard to the process.

I had myself come from local government in the borough of Newham. Of course, I would have been extremely understanding and sensitive and aware of the process as councillors a staff member has to go through.

Q. You say in the last sentence, paragraph 6: “During John Biggs leadership factional politicians and division were heightened”, the reality is that the main reason they were heightened was because of the constant attempts to unseat John Biggs by Christine Shawcroft and others, is it not; that is the reality, that was the factional bitterness caused by them?

A. The Labour Group, my Lord, was extremely divided and I think I elude to that. Indeed, I cannot recall and there will be others who may have better recollection, but I cannot recall any attempt to unseat John Biggs as a leader during the time while he was the leader. It was only at the end of his term when —-

Q. He was only leader for one year —-

A. The regulation stipulated, my Lord, that every year the leader changes — sorry, has to stand for re-selection. So, only when — I think between March and April there were a lot of  then what the new panel could look like and that maybe John Biggs should be replaced because of his record of not working collectively with the team members, of creating division, of deep angst during all of the meetings, there were many meetings fraught with difficulties and anger. And, indeed, Mr. Hoar, the group was extremely divided, not just on lines of so-called left and right, but also there were large presence of the Bangladeshi councillors and there were issues —-

Q. (Unclear) for example?

A. —- there were several others, including —-

Q. —- is not Mr. Biggs’ biggest fan, is he?

A. As far as I am aware, Mr. Galal and Mr. Biggs had worked very closely together.

Q. Early in the 1980s?

A. I think they had; but I am not privy to their relationship.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, I think we do not get very much from this beyond what we have already.

MR. HOAR: There are two more things I ought to put.

THE COMMISSIONER: The Labour Party in Tower Hamlets in 1995 spent most of its time fighting like cats in a sack.

THE WITNESS: Yes, indeed, they did, my Lord.

MR. HOAR: Paragraph 8, last sentence, it is not true that

Mr. Biggs said that Tower Hamlets was not ready for an Asian lady; you have just made that up, have you not?

THE WITNESS: My Lord, I am deeply saddened to say this is something that John and I had often discussed. He had often said, I think that he was and he did used to then say “Pola,

I am just joking”, and I would always say to him, “John, I  find that deeply offensive, you have said that many times before and it is time you grew up”, I used to say that to him. But that did not take away the fact that there were assumptions about women’s leadership and especially one that was of Asian heritage. I would say that that was without any questions and John himself would argue that there was an enormous amount of prejudice against Bangladeshi community and Bangladeshi women in particular. In any case, Tower Hamlets always has had not sufficient number of women in its rank.

Q. That is the first time you have mentioned that in 20 years, is it not?

A. Mentioned what? I have to say that is absolutely —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Which comment, Mr. Hoar?

MR. HOAR: That Tower Hamlets was not ready for an Asian woman, which is the alleged comment by Mr. Biggs. I have no more questions.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Penny?

BARONESS UDDIN RE-EXAMINED BY MR. PENNY

Q.  Have you come here to be exposed to what you have just gone through?

A.  I can only say I came here on your request specifically to answer the questions that no, I did not have anything to do with the fax.  I still do not know who sent that fax.  And  also arising out of the questions I was asked about my views on what John had said and my response to that on the Sunday Politics show.

Q.  Have you come here to lie for Lutfur Rahman?

A.  Absolutely not, my Lord.  Lutfur and I have never really worked together including — I think on maybe one, well, on several community occasions we have shared a platform.  And, in fact, when he was a councillor I had challenged him several times whilst I was in the Lords for his optimism about the borough’s education system.  I do not know whether he still   has the letter.  Indeed, my relationship with Lutfur is very limited and I have come only — and also not come here to discredit John Biggs, I think that I want to say that I   understand in the context within which John Biggs says what he says and that it was in his character to say that he said.

Q.  What do you mean by that?

A.  I think that when I have to say that on 22nd September 2013 when he appeared on television and he said what he said I just thought — that was just following the EDL coming to Tower Hamlets and causing huge angst and upset and disgust and most of the community work together to try and tackle the fact that the EDL must not enter the borough. I think collectively all of the communities have worked extremely well to ensure that we do not ever entertain fascists on our council and in   our institutions locally.  That work has been done together. Therefore, I was extremely sort of distressed really by   hearing that once again John would say something to the effect that once you are elected that you only work in the interests   of one group of people.

Q.  But it was suggested to you, on behalf of the petitioners in this election petitioner, that is what John Biggs does, he says provocative things, he speaks before he thinks effectively; is that okay?

A.  That is his character.  That is certainly something he has done. That is something that I am well experienced with.  That is something, not only me, you ask any of them (unclear), you ask Michael Keith, you ask any one of them on his team they would tell you the same thing.  So, it is not something I am saying, it is not the fabric of my imagination.  You will realise that prejudice and racism and sexism are subjective experiences. They are felt experiences, so that it is up to

the recipient, if you like, to define that. I think if somebody says that right now I am being sexist or racist, I am giving that impression to you and I have to respect your experience.

Q. When you were campaigning, did you talk about sections of the community?

A. I think —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Campaigning when?

MR. PENNY: At a time when this lady was working together with Mr. Biggs.

THE COMMISSIONER: 20 years ago?

THE WITNESS: I think at that time the Bangladeshi community was just emerging in terms of political participation. So, I

think we were always very cautious about how much we would irritate, if you like, the majority white voters, so that we

were often designing policies to ensure that — so, the core voters referred to were never Bangladeshi voters, it was always seen the core voters, i.e. the most important voters, would be the white voters. My experience professionally and has been someone who was elected in Shadwell, which was largely a very much more mixed constituents, that i always challenged this. If John said to me we have to be careful about which housing project we start first, it must not be   seen to be the Bangladeshi one because we would agitate the majority voters. I always used to say we have to trust the instinct of the voters, we would have to rely on working collectively and if we inform people that the majority needs for larger houses belong to a certain section of the community, that is not racist.  That is not giving extra emphasis to one particular committee or importance, it is simply meeting the obligation of an elected councillor.

If I may go back to the question you raised about why I mentioned this.  The Sunday Politics show in particular I think was very unwise and unfitting of someone who is wanting to represent the whole borough, because it fed into the   narrative which was suggested by the EDL that the borough was largely paying lots of attention to the Bangladeshi community. That has never been true.  Because, first of all, it is completely illegal and immoral to just pay attention as elected councillors to one set of the communities because you are obligated by law, by procedures to ensure that all your policies impact the whole community.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Any further questions?

MR. PENNY:  Yes, there are.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Fire away.  I am keeping an eye on the clock, because you are going to recall Mr. Biggs, are you not?

MR. PENNY:  Mr. Hoar is, yes.

MR. HOAR:  And I would like enough time to do that.

MR. PENNY:  It sounds like I am being told to sit down?

MR. HOAR:  I am not.  I am just saying there are only so many hours in a day.

THE COMMISSIONER:  If you have further topics to cover, you cover them.

MR. PENNY:  Let us be honest about it, this lady has been put through the mill during the course of her cross-examination and she is entitled to her say and that is what re-examination is about.

THE WITNESS:  I have been through bigger mills.  I am perfectly able to look after myself.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Yes, cross-examination in its widest sense.

MR. HOAR:  If it arises from cross-examination is the correct test.

MR. PENNY:  Correct.  (To the witness) What about when Mr. Biggs said to you about Tower Hamlets not being ready for an Asian female, did you take him to be just to be joking?

THE WITNESS:  No, my Lord.  I reprimanded him almost immediately. I said to him that I do not take that.  I think I might have myself made a throwaway comment and said, “God, that is so racist”, and immediately he said he said it as a joke.  My Lord, we have had these banters with each other —-

Q.  Why do you say banter?  That is an interesting noun, I want you to explain why it was banter?

A.  Because it was so frequent and it was a normal language for him.  I think those kinds of comments — many who worked with him will tell you that they were offended by the way that he spoke to them very often.  If he got angry in a meeting, he  would almost like grind his teeth in anger.  On one incident I took my daughter, and my daughter was very, very young — and Mr. Biggs also has a daughter — and, in fact, he told me that this council was not a crèche.  I had only on one  occasion took my daughter to the council.  I never did subsequently because I was so absolutely enraged about that.

Q.  Why were you enraged about a comment being made about the council not being creche?

A.  Because it contradicted everything that the Labour values was about.

Q.  Why?

A.  That it was about facilitating women’s participation.  It was about valuing women’s engagement, we are supposed to have followed subsequently a good strategy for child care in the borough and it kind of smacked in the face of everything that we believed in, in the public arena.  So, I said that I was deeply offended by that and I said to him this is the only occasion that I have ever — I have been on the Labour Party campaign trail since my late teens — so my children were a known factor that they not present in the works and I spent as many as my other colleagues had spent over those years, 12 to 18, 20 hours on campaign trail sometimes and of course our children were not part of that.

THE COMMISSIONER: We have gone a long way from cross-examination, Mr. Penny.

MR. PENNY: I have not asked the question. I have asked a question and the witness is answering the question.

THE COMMISSIONER: I was not sure that creches and that sort of comment has arisen before.

MR. PENNY: That is because that arose from the issue that the witness was addressing, which was in relation to comments made by the witness about whether Mr. Biggs was ready for an Asian lady and your Lordship knows that is the question that I asked. That undoubtedly does arise on the issues in this case.

MR. HOAR: It is no comment on which I am able —-

MR. PENNY: No, no.

THE COMMISSIONER: We have yet to see what Mr. Biggs says when we get to him.

MR. PENNY: I do not know, maybe it is me again fantasising, I seem to have done quite a lot of it over the last six weeks,   but I think it was suggested to this lady on behalf of the petitioners that Mr. Biggs was the sort of man who made provocative rash comments, something along those lines.

THE COMMISSIONER: It was.

MR. PENNY:  There we are.  Thank you very much.

THE COMMISSIONER:  You are free to go.

Read Full Post »

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.

mug

 

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.

For me, the most interesting allegation against him is the so-called Section 106 charge: ie false statement against John Biggs. There’s decent explanation of it here:

  • 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.

The transcript for Monday’s hearing is here. Alibor began his evidence yesterday and the transcript for that is here.

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?
A. Yes.
Q. You thought this was extremely divisive?
A. Very.
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?
A. Sure.
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?
A. Absolutely
.Q. You say that despite the fact, and you say that because this was a comment on a south eastern area BBC broadcast?
A. Correct.
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?
A. No.
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?
A. Yes.
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?
A. Please.
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?
A. Yes.
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?
A. Correct.
Q. Before you get any answer from the Commission?
A. Yes.
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.

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I don’t know if Mayor Lutfur Rahman was a little cold or merely shy when he arrived at court today but whichever PR genius advised him to turn up looking like Inspector Clouseau probably needs sacking.

lutfur rahman, high court

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

 

Apparently, he wasn’t too happy about being photographed and words were exchanged. I’m not surprised, though: he’s been under incredible pressure for the past year or so and the court case would take its toll on anyone.

He has now completed his three-and-a-half day ordeal in the witness stand, and tonight must preside over the Tower Hamlets council’s annual budget making meeting. The man deserves a holiday.

I’ve yet to go through the transcript of today’s proceedings but there were some interesting exchanges yesterday.

I particularly liked this one between the learned colleagues in which Commissioner/Judge Richard Mawrey QC refers to my last blog post:

THE COMMISSIONER: It is late in the day, Mr. Hoar.

MR. HOAR: I am sorry.

THE COMMISSIONER: Despite our best endeavours, the literal temperature has risen considerably.

MR. HOAR: I am sorry. Yes, the literal temperature.

MR. HOAR: Even the famous Mr. Jeory has described it as “the sauna of court 38″.

THE COMMISSIONER: No. I think he was quoting me.

MR. HOAR: He was.

MR. PENNY: I do not know what my learned friend or your Lordship are talking about, I have to say.

THE COMMISSIONER: Apparently, I understand that Mr. Jeory quoted the statement I made that this was “an unofficial sauna”.

MR. PENNY: I see. I was unaware of that. I do not believe that it forms material in the case; at least, I hope not.

MR. HOAR: It does not.

THE COMMISSIONER: I think you may rest assured on that account, Mr. Penny, that saunas will not enter into it further.

MR. PENNY: I am grateful.

The immediately preceding exchange between the petitioners’ barrister Francis Hoar and Lutfur wasn’t nearly as droll.

Q. You can see the effect of your memos from — we have already seen them — 899 onwards, your tame press, the Bangla Mirror, the London Bangla?

A. That is ridiculous, Mr. Hoar.

Q. Your tame press repeating, hook, line and sinker, all your press releases?

A. That is ridiculous, Mr. Hoar.

Q. They are your tame press, are they not?

A. That is a ridiculous suggestion.

Q. The London Bangla is so tame that on the Friday of this trial it called all your enemies “enemies of all British Bangladeshis”, did it not?

A. I have no control over the editorials of any paper, let alone the London Bangla.

Q. You do not need to; they are so far up your — Mr. Rahman, you do not need to, do you?

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar.

MR. HOAR: You do not need to. I apologise.

A. Come on, Mr. Hoar. Come on.

Q. I apologise. You do not need to do that?

A. It is not necessary, Mr. Hoar. Come on.

Q. You do not need to do that, because they are —-

A. They are all independent organisations.

Q. I am sorry. I am sorry.

A. They run stories that concern the borough, Mr. Hoar. I have no control over any one of them; nor do I suggest to them what they should be writing.

Q. You see other responses to this. A man named Oliur Rahman — not your councillor — saying, “Why vote for a racist fascist when there is Mayor Lutfur making TH prosper?”

A. Mr. Hoar, I do not even known who this Oliur Rahman is, and I do not control people doing what they do, Mr. Hoar.

Q. You do not control him. You do control Councillor Rabbani. You do not control Councillor Rabbani either, but Councillor Rabbani is a close associate of yours, is he not?

A. I do not control anyone. They are all intelligent, capable, independent people.

Q. Before I go on, there is one matter that I need to put to you. In 2010, during the period when you were off the shortlist for Mayor of Tower Hamlets candidature, you visited John Biggs, did you not?

A. Absolutely not. I made it clear in my statement.

Q. You did it late at night?

A. When you have finished, Mr. Hoar, I want to come in, please.

Q. I am just putting it to you. You can accept it or deny it. I suggest you visited him late at night?

A. Absolutely not. I was trying to get on the shortlist. I had my aspirations. I was working away. I was in litigation with the Labour Party to get on the shortlist. I was advised I had a good chance of success. Why will I go to Mr. Biggs’ house?

Q. You offered a block of your votes?

A. I have no block vote. I worked very hard to get selected. I worked very hard to get elected as a councillor —-

Q. And did you so —-

A. As a mayor twice. Mr. Hoar, can I finish?

Q. Yes.

A. I worked very hard. I knocked on every single member’s door during the selection process.

Q. You did so for a guarantee of positions of influence?

A. I would never do that. It makes an illogical suggestion. When I am fighting, when I am spending money, when I am in litigation of the Labour Party, and it is about two, three days down the line, when I have got this hearing in court, in the High Court, and I mean, (unclear) conversations with the Labour Party — and I would do this? I would never do something like this.

Q. You also have lied in your witness statement, when you say that Mr. Biggs telephoned you and spoke about membership of the House of Lords; that is a complete fabrication, is it not?

A. Mr. Hoar, it was about 8-ish in the evening, and whilst I was getting in my car I received a phone call from Mr. Biggs. As I set out in my statement, I was very surprised. I was very surprised I had received a phone call just a few days before the actual hearing, first being nice to me, finding out how I am, being really sweet to me, and encouraging me not to proceed and to take the party to court.

Q. Why is it you think that Mr. Biggs would have any influence over nominations by Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband, whoever it was, to the House of Lords?

A. Mr. Biggs, Mr. Biggs, listen — sorry. Mr. Hoar, if I wasn’t on the shortlist, the way the shortlist was, Mr. Biggs very well knew he was the clear front runner or the mayoral candidature, and I did not say that he said he would give me a Lordship. He said I have a future, I have a future. I haven’t got the statement out with me. I have got a future in the Labour Party, I have got a future going forward in Parliament or in the House of Lords; and his comments were I should really reconsider whether I would take the party on like this; and when I refused to his suggestions, Mr. Hoar, he started to threaten me, threaten me. Now, why would I lie over that? He made that to me.

Q. Mr. Rahman, you have done nothing but lie in the course of your evidence today, yesterday and on Friday?

A. That is absolutely, absolutely untrue.

Q. You would not know the truth if it slapped you in the face, would you, Mr. Rahman?

A. Mr. Hoar, absolutely untrue. You can suggest that as much as you like. I am here. My future, my future, my whole future is in the hands of my Lordship.

Q. That is why —-

A. I am out here. I would not throw away, I would not throw away my future, the future of the hard work, my hard work over the last 10, 15 years on something as silly as that, Mr. Hoar.

And then earlier in the day, we had the following discussion between Lutfur and Francis Hoar (with an intervention by the Mayor’s QC, Duncan Penny). It relates to my report here of a rowdy full council meeting in December 2010.

Q. Can I take you to [p]1529. 1528 is where it starts. This is a blog, frankly, by Ted Jeory, who is known to everyone in this room, or at least known by his writing.

MR. PENNY: He is not known to me.

MR. HOAR: He crops us whenever Tower Hamlets is discussed. Anyway, I am just going to ask you whether he has got the picture right about one of the council meetings. I think it is the correct council meeting. It is the one on 29th of the 11th, because you see “December 11th”. There wouldn’t have been a council meeting between those two events. He describes this, because you say, “Oh, this is a council meeting, and this is how council meetings are.” Can I just take you to an example of that, which is at 1528, where you see a description of Shiraz Haque and then you see a description of something that Shiraz Haque balled out, so Mr. Jeory writes, “In your presence.” He says: “One mayor, one borough, he will do everything he likes. P, to get out of11 the borough, you can rent one of my flats. Peter, are you going on a honeymoon with Jim Fitzpatrick. (Heckling) I can get you a better rate of interest if you invest in me.” That’s one of the examples of the council meeting and it’s a council meeting that’s what happens.

A. Total rubbish.

Q. You say that that didn’t happen?

A. Total rubbish.

Q. So Ted Jeory when he wrote that was lying about it, was he?

A. I don’t know what Ted Jeory was saying, Mr. Hoar. I have never missed a full council.

Q. No, you haven’t.

A. Those kind of comments have never been made.

Q. So you are saying that Ted Jeory has lied about a council meeting a few days later to, what, entertain his readers?

A. Ted Jeory has said a lot of things over the last 10 years, Mr. Hoar, and I’m not going to comment on those, but attributing those to a member in public, I am sure that Mr. Golds would have been the first one to complain and officers would have investigated.

Q. It is one thing, Mr. Rahman, to say that you don’t agree with Mr. Jeory, but it is another to say that he’s a liar. Which of those is it?

A. I am saying that I was on the rostrum, there were others on the rostrum, too, and I don’t believe anyone else heard those comments being made. So what Mr. Jeory said is up to him.

Q. No, no. That’s not what you are saying.

A. I am.

Q. He has reported a meeting at which he was present, and he has given direct quotes to one of your supporters. You have said that those things were not said at all because your memory of that particular meeting is now rather good.

A. No, no. I am saying to you that I have not heard those comments being made at a public meeting. If they were made, I am sure the chief executive or the monitoring officer would have picked it up. I am sure that Mr. Golds would have put in a complaint and someone would have investigated.

Q. Oh, you’re sure that Mr. Golds would have put in a complaint?

A. That’s what he does. He always puts in a complaint.

Q. This is what you are saying, is it not? You are saying that Ted Jeory was lying about what happened in that meeting?

A. I’m not saying that. It is for Mr. Ted Jeory to say. It is for him to say.

Q. There are only two conclusions, Mr. Rahman, aren’t there? He does not say that this was said sotto voce, very quietly at the back of the meeting. He said that it was shouted out. You have professed to have a good memory of it, and you say that that didn’t happen. So what you are doing is accusing Ted Jeory of lying, aren’t you?

A. That’s what you are saying. I am saying that I don’t know what Mr. Ted Jeory had in mind and what he said. It is up to him. What I am saying is that I didn’t hear those comments being made and I am sure officers, or Mr. Golds, would have picked it up if those comments were made.

Q. During that outburst, you said absolutely nothing, did you?

A. I am sitting there, as a mayor, making my statement, as I do, and I am there. It is not for me to control the public gallery. It is for officers to control that.

Q. These are your supporters, aren’t they?

A. They are supporters of various parties who attend the public gallery.

The full transcript, including a very interesting account of the alleged racism by the ruling Liberal party in the early Nineties is available here.

Lutfur denies all accusations made against him. The hearing continues tomorrow.

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Again, I’ve not yet had the dubious privilege of sitting in Court 38, a courtroom that even the Election Court judge Richard Mawrey QC himself has described as an “unofficial sauna” (there seems to be a problem with the heating system), so I can’t give a full flavour of events.

But I have read some of the transcripts from the proceedings.

Last week’s sittings seemed to be particularly testing. Records show Mawrey asked for Cllr Gulam Robbani to be excluded from the courtroom on Wednesday after he was accused by the petitioners’ barrister of intimidatory behaviour towards witnesses. Mawrey made no judgement on whether that was the case and stressed that the exclusion was no reflection on Lutfur Rahman.

The temperature between the two barristers, Duncan Penny QC for Lutfur and Francis Hoar for the petitioners, is also hotting up. During the mayor’s day in court on Friday, if that’s the right term to use, Penny complained to the judge that “these proceedings need to be taken control of, because what is going on at the moment is, in public, in very high profile proceedings, the most ridiculous conduct I have ever seen in a courtroom in 22 years on behalf of a member of the Bar.”

This complaint came after a long and detailed exchange between Hoar and Lutfur in which the genesis of the Tower Hamlets First party was explored. Part of the petitioners’ case is that the party was for all intents and purposes merely another embodiment of the mayor, so that acts which may have happened under its banner were linked directly to Lutfur.

Mawrey took a close interest in this exchange, which I’ll paste from the transcript below. He addressed a number of detailed questions to Lutfur about how involved he was in the party’s formation and what accounts and other records they kept. In short, Lutfur’s answer was that he delegated most of that to Cllr Alibor Choudhury. Lutfur said he was the leader but left the fine details to others.

Lutfur said the party was a “loose grouping” and that he hadn’t seen any party constitution, although he believed one existed. Further, Lutfur said the party didn’t have a bank account and that financing for things like election campaign materials was done through a system of donations in kind from supporters. Lutfur said the record keeping and accounts for these donations were kept properly at Alibor’s house, the party’s registered address.

As a result of the questioning on this matter, Mawrey agreed an urgent request from Hoar that these records and accounts be presented to the court by 10am tomorrow morning. Hoar indicated he’d want proof they hadn’t been “forged” over the weekend.

All strong stuff; Penny claimed these were “wild allegations”.

The excerpt below about the history of Tower Hamlets First, and how it was formed at a meeting in an unnamed councillor’s  house in late summer autumn 2013 I found particularly fascinating, not least because Lutfur’s then deputy mayor Cllr Ohid Ahmed wasn’t there. But that’s just political anorak stuff.

The full transcript of Lutfur’s first day in court is here. It’s long, and he may have two or three more days of this.

The excerpt about this Tower Hamlets First business is also long, but well worth a read.

(Notes on the text: The first Q you read is a question from Francis Hoar. The formatting is as per the transcript so it’s in line numbers. Those numbers are the first items in each row. Occasionally you’ll see a page number appear e.g. “[page 1881]”; that’s the start of a new page and a new batch of line numbers. The page is headed with a title of whoever the exchange is between, e.g. “Lutfur Rahman – Hoar”. After every four pages, you’ll see this:

ERLAM & OTHERS v RAHMAN & WILLIAMS 20 FEBRUARY 2015 PROCEEDINGS DAY 14

TEL: (020) 7067 2900 E-MAIL: info@martenwalshcherer.com FAX: (020) 7831 6864

MARTEN WALSH CHERER LTD 1ST FLOOR, 6-9 QUALITY COURT, CHANCERY LANE LONDON, WC2A 1HP

This is the imprint of the company making the transcript, which someone has sent me. I think residents should have access to these records.

Here’s the exchange.

Q. Of course. You say this: “During my first term as mayor

22 I took part in negotiations with senior Labour Party officials

23 with a view to possible re-admission to the party for me and

24 all councillors who had followed me. … (reads to the

25 words)… many local residents were interested in standing for

[Page 1881]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 election and ex-councillors”, and you discussed this with them

3 and you set up Tower Hamlets First as an umbrella group under

4 which all candidates could stand. You say: “Although

5 registered, it is not a political party in the formal sense.

6 It does not have any formal membership … (reads to the

7 words)… although we have a manifesto.” You registered the

8 party with the Electoral Commission on 18th September 2013,

9 did you not?

10 A. That is the date, yes.

11 Q. We have already discussed this, so you are well aware of the

12 obligations pursuant to the Political Parties, Elections And

13 Referendums Act 2000, are you not?

14 A. Yes, sir.

15 Q. You are the leader of the party and, therefore, many of those

16 responsibilities bear down to you ultimately, do they not?

17 A. It is a lose grouping of people with no constitution, no

18 membership. We never had any group meetings as such and, yes,

19 we had to satisfy the minimum requirement which needed a

20 leader and a treasurer. So, I was the nominal leader and

21 Councillor Alibor Choudhury was the treasurer of this grouping

22 of people.

23 Q. As the leader of the party you have particular

24 responsibilities, do you not?

25 A. Yes, I accept that.

[Page 1882]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. Legally?

3 A. Yes.

4 Q. When you registered the party, you registered emblems, did you

5 not?

6 A. Yes, sir.

7 Q. And you registered slogans; yes?

8 A. I left the actual registration, I delegated the registration

9 responsibility to Councillor Choudhury. I believe an emblem

10 was also registered.

11 Q. Two emblems?

12 A. Two —-

13 Q. They might be very similar?

14 A. Okay, forgive me.

15 Q. Fair enough. You tried to do that, you cover your back even

16 when you are doing these kind of things. Donations, again the

17 responsibility for donations lies with Councillor Choudhury as

18 treasurer. Who is the nominating officer?

19 A. The agent for the grouping was Councillor Choudhury.

20 Q. So, he is the treasurer and nominating officer?

21 A. The agent of the grouping, yes.

22 Q. Under the Act who is the nominating officer, pursuant to the

23 Act?

24 A. I think it is the agent who is the nominating officer.

25 Q. You think it is the agent, so you think it is Councillor

ERLAM & OTHERS v RAHMAN & WILLIAMS 20 FEBRUARY 2015 PROCEEDINGS DAY 14

TEL: (020) 7067 2900 E-MAIL: info@martenwalshcherer.com FAX: (020) 7831 6864

MARTEN WALSH CHERER LTD 1ST FLOOR, 6-9 QUALITY COURT, CHANCERY LANE LONDON, WC2A 1HP

[23] (Pages 1883 to 1886)

[Page 1883]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Choudhury?

3 A. It is Councillor Choudhury, he dealt with all the nominations.

4 THE COMMISSIONER: Just to remind you, Mr. Rahman, you have to

5 register a person as a party leader, a person as the party

6 nominating officer and a person as the party treasurer.

7 THE WITNESS: I believe it is, my Lord, Councillor Choudhury was

8 that officer.

9 Q. As both nominating officer and treasurer?

10 A. Yes.

11 THE COMMISSIONER: I see.

12 MR. HOAR: The PPERA is the Political Parties, Elections and

13 Referendums Act also requires you to control campaign

14 expenditure —-

15 THE COMMISSIONER: Can I just pursue this a moment. As

16 I understand it I appreciate you do not have schedule 4 of the

17 Act in front of you, that provides that if the same person is

18 named in two or more of those three offices you have got to

19 give the name and home address of some other specified officer

20 in the party. Were you aware of that and who else is given as

21 a specified officer of the party?

22 A. My Lord, I left, I delegated the responsibility for forming

23 the grouping, naming, obviously I was consulted on the name,

24 and the actual formalities to Councillor Choudhury.

25 MR. HOAR: So, if there is a mistake and his Lordship’s point and

[Page 1884]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 there is the name and address of somebody else, that is his

3 fault, is it?

4 THE WITNESS: Well, I do not know — when Councillor Choudhury

5 comes I am sure we can clarify. The Tower Hamlets First

6 grouping was accepted as a party and we were, Tower Hamlets

7 First were able to nominate councillors under its auspices and

8 the mayor. There was not a problem, so I believe the

9 formalities were complied with.

10 Q. You did not know what his Lordship just pointed out, did you,

11 until just now, you did not know that was the case?

12 A. No problems were brought to my attention when the groupings

13 were formed.

14 Q. Just to be clear, what your Lordship drew attention to was the

15 fact if there is one person named as nominating officer and

16 treasurer there needs to be another person’s name and address

17 registered. You did not know about that until his Lordship

18 brought that to your attention, did you?

19 A. Sure, I do not know all the exact specifics of what is

20 required —-

21 Q. No.

22 A. May I finish, please, Mr. Hoar. What is required to form a

23 party or a grouping. But what I do know, and I was informed

24 and I believe that is the case, that it was formed properly,

25 the formalities were complied with, hence we were able to use

[Page 1885]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 the emblem and the name going forward in the 2014 election.

3 Q. I do apologise by saying “no”, I did not mean to cut you off.

4 THE COMMISSIONER: Do you have a registered campaigners officer?

5 A. We do not have any registered campaigners as such. Although

6 Councillor Choudhury and Councillor (unclear) are my main two

7 campaign people.

8 MR. HOAR: Would you be aware that the nominating officer,

9 Councillor Choudhury, is responsible for giving written

10 authorisation for candidates to stand on behalf of the party.

11 A. Yes.

12 Q. And for submitting lists of election candidates where

13 proportional representation is used, that does not apply in

14 your case, so we will ignore that. As a treasurer he is the

15 officer with legal responsibility for ensuring the party

16 complies with its financial requirements and he would be the

17 officer to whom most of the correspondence from the Electoral

18 Commission was sent?

19 A. Yes, and he complied with those requirements.

20 Q. We will come back to that. There is, is there not, a great

21 potential for anyone setting up a political party to get some

22 things wrong, is there not?

23 A. I think in any circumstances we are humans, we can make

24 mistakes. However, in this, in setting up a grouping Tower

25 Hamlets First the fact that nominations were accepted, the

[Page 1886]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 emblems were accepted, we were able to go into election under

3 its name, I believe it was properly formulated.

4 Q. Just to be clear where I am going, I am not at the moment

5 suggesting that anything did go wrong, but there is a

6 potential and the reason I ask that is this. There is a

7 potential for things to go wrong and therefore it is important

8 that the decision to register a political party is very well

9 thought out and planned. Would you agree with that?

10 A. Yes, and we did form a grouping, Tower Hamlets First.

11 Q. Did you receive legal advice?

12 A. As I said, I delegated to Councillor Choudhury, if there were

13 any problems we would have brought it to my attention.

14 Q. You would know if you received legal advice or not, would you

15 not?

16 A. Not necessarily. I left it to — as I said, it was the

17 responsibility of Councillor Choudhury to form and to attend

18 to the formalities and he did attend to the formalities, the

19 party was registered and in order to do that what was

20 necessary he attended to it.

21 Q. I am sorry, Mr. Rahman, have I got this right? You would not

22 know whether or not Councillor Choudhury had received legal

23 advice about setting up a political party for which you were

24 going to be leader; is that your evidence?

25 A. I do not know if Councillor Choudhury obtained legal advice.

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[24] (Pages 1887 to 1890)

[Page 1887]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 What I would have known if there were any issues, if there

3 were any problems in registering that group, it would have

4 certainly are been brought to my attention.

5 Q. I am sorry.

6 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Rahman, perhaps you can put some flesh on

7 the bones. Who took the decision that a political party would

8 be formed?

9 THE WITNESS: It was a number of councillors, I was there, my

10 Lord, and some supporters. It was not a public meeting, as

11 such, some of us took the decision when we could not be

12 re-admitted to the Labour Party.

13 Q. So, there was a meeting involving yourself and some

14 councillors and some supporters?

15 A. Sure, it was an formal meeting, my Lord. It was not a formal

16 meeting as such.

17 Q. Presumably you, as mayor, chaired it?

18 A. We were there, there was no chair. We had a discussion, it

19 was a discussion group and it was not a formal meeting that

20 required a chair and we decided —-

21 Q. Whose idea was it? Because obviously someone has to have the

22 idea in the first place before you can discuss it.

23 A. I think it was quite a few of us, because obviously — and

24 obviously I agreed with it, it was also my idea too, my Lord,

25 because people were approaching me, as I said in my statement,

[Page 1888]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 who wanted to stand on my track record, on our track record

3 and how well we were that if we did not have a name, we did

4 not have a banner, then there would so many independents who

5 would be claiming to be part of the mayor’s team and,

6 therefore, we said we would give it a name.

7 Q. Who thought up the name?

8 A. I think one of our councillors thought up the name.

9 Q. Not yourself?

10 A. No, my Lord.

11 MR. HOAR: Who?

12 THE WITNESS: I cannot remember.

13 Q. It is quite important. People spend hundreds of thousands of

14 pounds getting advice on branding. You know that, do you not?

15 A. We were not a sophisticated party in the traditional sense,

16 Mr. Hoar.

17 Q. Do you remember that logo for the London Olympics? Do you

18 remember how many hundreds of thousands were spent on that,

19 for example?

20 A. I do not know how much was spent but I know a lot of money was

21 spent.

22 Q. People spend fortunes because it is so important, do they not,

23 these kind of things, Tower Hamlets First or another sort of

24 name, they spend a lot of money on it, do they not?

25 A. We hardly spent any money. Our logo is a house, you can see

[Page 1889]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 it.

3 Q. It is an important decision, it is for a political party.

4 A. It is a very important decision. When we could not be

5 re-admitted to the Labour Party, we wanted a grouping of

6 people coming to together and clearly identified who they are

7 in terms of the election, that was it.

8 THE COMMISSIONER: If you want to form a political party there is

9 obviously a lot of paperwork to go through and you have to

10 find out what to do. As far as you can recall, who found out

11 what was to do and who did the paperwork.

12 THE WITNESS: Councillor Choudhury did — obviously he may have

13 sought help from a volunteer, someone may have helped him, but

14 he was the one who was tasked to go ahead and identify, find

15 out what the requirements are and attend to those

16 requirements.

17 Q. You must have signed at least one form as leader?

18 A. Yes, my name was used as the leader. My Lord, the name, it

19 was consensual when the name was branded around in that

20 discussion, more or less everyone said yes, Tower Hamlets

21 First because we wanted to concentrate on Tower Hamlets.

22 MR. HOAR: Do you remember you may or you may not take a bit of a

23 keen interest in politics.

24 THE WITNESS: A fair interest.

25 Q. Not just in Tower Hamlets, a bit more wider than —-

[Page 1890]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. I try to keep up with current affairs.

3 Q. You have campaigned, for example, Keith Vaz?

4 A. It was not Keith Vaz, it was Mr. Ashworth.

5 Q. Was it? And you are associated now with Mr. Galloway, to a

6 degree, are you not?

7 A. I know Mr. Galloway, I have never voted for him and I have

8 never supported him. I am associated with a number of

9 politicians. If you could call it association, know of them,

10 etcetera, but I have never been a member of Mr. Galloway’s

11 party nor have I voted for him.

12 Q. And you go to meetings around the country, do you not?

13 A. Not really. I have been to one or two meetings to other

14 places but I have been more occupied with Tower Hamlets, that

15 is my priority, that is my passion.

16 Q. You were once voted to be one of the top 50 most influential

17 figures on the left, were you not? Do you remember?

18 A. I do not know influential.

19 Q. In the country?

20 A. All I am interested in is Tower Hamlets.

21 Q. You therefore take a keen interest in politics nationally, do

22 you not?

23 A. I hardly do take an interest in what happens nationally.

24 Q. Do you remember, there was an election for leader of the

25 Scottish Conservative Party a couple of years ago? Do you

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[25] (Pages 1891 to 1894)

[Page 1891]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 remember that?

3 A. I cannot remember.

4 Q. Do you remember, one feature of the whole campaign was a

5 suggestion by one of the candidates Murdo Fraser, that the

6 name of the party should be changed. Do you remember that?

7 A. I cannot remember that.

8 Q. So, it was so important the naming of a political party that

9 it formed a important plank of a leadership election across

10 the whole of Scotland. Do you remember?

11 A. I do not recall that. I do not remember.

12 Q. Whether you remember that or not, you concede, do you not,

13 that naming a political party, especially at the outset, is

14 very important, do you not?

15 A. Tower Hamlets First, we placed the people of Tower Hamlets

16 First.

17 Q. Yet you cannot remember the name of the councillor who

18 suggested it?

19 A. When we had that discussion what name to be given, everyone

20 came up with more or less similar names. I cannot recall who

21 proposed it first.

22 Q. Where was this meeting?

23 A. Sorry?

24 Q. Where was the meeting?

25 A. It was one of our councillor’s houses.

[Page 1892]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. In a house?

3 A. In a councillor’s house.

4 Q. Who went?

5 A. As I have said, a number of councillors and one or two

6 supporters.

7 Q. Who?

8 A. I cannot give you the exact names.

9 Q. Why not?

10 A. Councillor Rabbani, Councillor Aminur Khan.

11 Q. Let’s go through them slowly so we can all take a note,

12 Mr. Rahman. Councillor Rabbani?

13 A. Yes. Councillor Aminur Khan, Councillor Rabina Khan.

14 Q. His wife?

15 A. Yes, Councillor Oliur Rahman.

16 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury?

17 THE WITNESS: Yes, Councillor Choudhury certainly he was there.

18 MR. HOAR: Kabir Ramis(?)?

19 THE WITNESS: No, he was there not.

20 Q. 0hid Ahmed?

21 A. No, he was not there.

22 Q. He was your deputy mayor at the time?

23 A. No, he was not there — sorry, he was my deputy mayor, but he

24 was not there. We informed — this was not a formal meeting

25 as such.

[Page 1893]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. No.

3 A. We never had any formal meetings. I had a chat with him

4 afterwards and I informed him.

5 Q. Nothing is formal, is it, Mr. Mayor?

6 A. We were not a formal grouping.

7 THE COMMISSIONER: Were most of these councillors members of your

8 cabinet?

9 THE WITNESS: Yes, my Lord, apart from Councillor Aminur Khan who

10 was not a member of my cabinet then — sorry, nor was

11 Councillor Rabbani. So, Councillor Rabina Khan was my cabinet

12 member; Councillor Alibor Choudhury was; Councillor Oliur

13 Rahman was my cabinet member.

14 Q. Who took the decision that Mr. Alibor Choudhury would do the

15 paperwork?

16 A. He was very reluctant, all of us pushed it his way.

17 MR. HOAR: When was it, this meeting?

18 THE WITNESS: It was some time in the end of autumn of 2013.

19 Q. Autumn?

20 A. Yes.

21 Q. Towards the end of autumn?

22 A. When did we form the party, Mr. Hoar?

23 Q. Well, you tell me. I did not form the party.

24 THE COMMISSIONER: I think it was accepted, Mr. Hoar, that it was

25 registered in September of 2013.

[Page 1894]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 MR. HOAR: But the witness said towards the end of autumn.

3 THE WITNESS: I did not say end of autumn.

4 MR. HOAR: Was that a slip of the tongue.

5 A. No, Mr. Hoar, I do say —-

6 Q. Are you getting confused?

7 A. You said end of autumn, I said some time in autumn.

8 Q. Sorry.

9 A. So late summer and autumn.

10 Q. As his Lordship correctly points out, the party was registered

11 on 18th September, which technically is summer. (Laughter)

12 THE COMMISSIONER: That is not your best point, Mr. Hoar, by a

13 long way.

14 MR. HOAR: That really is the head of a pin. I am not picking up

15 on that. (To the witness) Anyway, it was in autumn, was it,

16 this meeting?

17 A. Late summer.

18 Q. Late summer/early autumn, but you cannot remember when

19 exactly. It is a pretty important meeting though, is it not?

20 A. I mean, you describe it as important, I do not know what you

21 mean by that. We waited until the last minute to be

22 re-admitted into the Labour Party. We were hoping that we

23 could be re-admitted into the Labour Party. We had to go –

24 could have all stayed independent, it would not have mattered

25 to us. The only reason why we formed and gave it the name,

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[26] (Pages 1895 to 1898)

[Page 1895]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 formed a loose grouping so that a number of independents could

3 not, we knew who the independent was associated with us and

4 would stand with us rather than anyone coming along claiming,

5 “I am independent, I am Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s” —-

6 Q. I understand all that?

7 A. That is all.

8 Q. It made eminent sense. But, nevertheless, the decision to

9 register a political party was an important decision?

10 A. In that sense, it is important, yes.

11 Q. Yet you cannot remember specifically who was there, where it

12 was and when it was?

13 A. No, I am telling you —-

14 Q. You can remember where it was?

15 A. It was in a councillor’s house. There were a number of

16 councillors were there, not everyone was there. During a

17 discussion this came up and the councillors agreed and we

18 agreed that this is how we will move forward. If it was

19 something preplanned and organised in advance, then all the

20 councillors would have been invited.

21 Q. Did you think of taking a minute of the meeting?

22 A. I believe there was, as I said it was not a formal meeting, I

23 do not believe there was a minute but Councillor Choudhury

24 took some notes.

25 Q. So, there were notes some notes of this meeting?

[Page 1896]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. He took some notes on the back of a paper.

3 Q. On the back of an envelope?

4 A. I do not know what it was, paper.

5 Q. Has he still got the envelope?

6 A. I doubt he has got — the paper, I do not say envelope.

7 I doubt that he has it.

8 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Rahman, perhaps you can help me on a couple

9 of matters. Can you recall who paid the fee for registration?

10 THE WITNESS: I did, my Lord.

11 Q. As I understand it, an application for registration must be

12 accompanied by a copy of the party’s constitution?

13 A. Sure.

14 Q. So, there is a constitution?

15 A. I do not believe there is a constitution, so I do not know how

16 they got over that. (Laughter)

17 MR. HOAR: There is no constitution?

18 THE WITNESS: There may be aims and objectives set out, I do not

19 believe there is a constitution.

20 Q. Are you —-

21 A. Can I finish, Mr. Hoar. A constitution as such in the

22 tradition of the Labour Party or the Conservative Party —-

23 Q. So, it is rather the English constitution of British

24 constitution latterly, it is an unwritten constitution, it is

25 made up of conventions and other documents; is that how it is?

[Page 1897]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. No, I am not saying that. All I am saying, in terms of a

3 written constitution that the major parties have, I do not

4 believe there is a constitution in that sense.

5 Q. So, you are in breach of the Political Parties —-

6 A. No, I am not saying we are in breach —-

7 Q. Well, you are.

8 A. —- I am sure Councillor Choudhury, when he comes here, can

9 give a perfect answer as to how the party was formed.

10 Q. But you do not believe there is a written constitution, do

11 you, that is what you have just said?

12 THE COMMISSIONER: You would presumably know, as the leader of

13 then party, if there was a written constitution.

14 A. There was not a constitution in the tradition sense, my Lord.

15 But in order to qualify —-

16 Q. In order to register you have to, theoretically at least, to

17 send with your application form a copy of the party’s

18 constitution, but you have never seen one?

19 A. I have not seen a constitution as such, but there may well be

20 a memorandum to support that application, there may well be

21 one in existence.

22 Q. Can I take this a little further. Also required by schedule 4

23 to the 2000 Act is this, the 2000 Act says, section 26: “A

24 party may not be registered unless it has adopted a scheme

25 which set outs the arrangement for regulating the financial

[Page 1898]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 affairs of the party for the purposes of the Act.” One of the

3 documents that you have to submit, together with the

4 constitution, is the draft of the scheme for regulating the

5 financial affairs of the party. Have you ever seen a draft

6 scheme for regulating the financial affairs of the party?

7 A. A number of documents, as I have said, Councillor Choudhury

8 attended to forming the grouping and the party. On its

9 application a number of documents were shown to me and

10 I believe I had to sign a piece of a paper. I do not know,

11 I cannot remember the exact documents. As I said, Councillor

12 Choudhury will be in a very good position to explain —-

13 MR. HOAR: Oh yes.

14 THE COMMISSIONER: As the leader of the party, presumably you

15 obviously would take some interest in the financial affairs of

16 the party.

17 A. Absolutely.

18 Q. But you are not aware of the draft scheme which the Act

19 requires?

20 A. I am not aware of the draft scheme as such. What I am aware

21 that declarations are made and returns are submitted on a

22 regular basis.

23 MR. HOAR: Mr. Rahman, it does sound rather like you did not get

24 legal advice about this, does it not? It really does sound

25 like you did not get any legal advice at all from what you are

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[27] (Pages 1899 to 1902)

[Page 1899]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 saying?

3 THE WITNESS: I believe Councillor Choudhury would be the best

4 person to answer that question.

5 Q. You, as the leader, would not think it wise as a lawyer who

6 knows the limitations of our specialism to get legal advice

7 from an election law specialist about registering a political

8 party?

9 A. I delegated the responsibility and it is proper to delegate

10 responsibility.

11 Q. When you were a respondent to this petition you instructed one

12 of the three leading firms who were specialist in election

13 law, did you not?

14 A. Yes, Mr. Hoar.

15 Q. I may be unfair to them, they may even be in the top two, you

16 did that because of the importance and gravity of the election

17 petition, did you not?

18 A. I needed expert advice and we got expert advice.

19 Q. In addition to it being important to get expert advice about

20 an election petition, it is pretty important to get it about

21 registering a political party, is it not?

22 A. Mr. Choudhury may have got that advice, I do not know.

23 Q. Again, you are seriously asking this court to believe that if

24 Mr. Choudhury got legal advice you would not know about it?

25 A. As I said earlier on, if there were any problems I asked him

[Page 1900]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 to bring it to my attention. So, obviously there were not any

3 problems, otherwise he would have done so.

4 Q. For example, breaching the Act can be a criminal offence, can

5 it not?

6 A. It may well be.

7 Q. For example, there is a criminal penalty pursuant to section

8 47 for submitting improper accounts, is there not?

9 A. Accounts have been submitted.

10 Q. His Lordship has just drawn your attention to a part of the

11 Act that you had absolutely no knowledge about, has he not?

12 A. Councillor Choudhury, who formed the party, in whom I have

13 full confidence, my Lord, and no issues were brought to my

14 attention —-

15 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Choudhury, I understand, is not legally

16 qualified. Am I correct?

17 A. No, he is not, my Lord.

18 MR. HOAR: You are, though, are you not?

19 A. Not in election law.

20 Q. And not in contractual law either.

21 A. I am not a contractual lawyer.

22 Q. No, which is why you think you might want to get a lawyer who

23 is experienced at least in drafting an incorporated

24 association’s constitution, would you not?

25 A. Mr. Choudhury formed the grouping. He attended to the

[Page 1901]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 formalities. We were able to go into the 2014 election with a

3 properly constituted grouping of Tower Hamlets First.

4 Q. A properly constituted grouping.

5 A. Of Tower Hamlets First. No issues were brought to my

6 attention so I can reasonably assume that there were no

7 problems.

8 Q. So you are a party whose leader does not know whether the

9 party has received legal advice, a party which does not have a

10 constitution, a party which is in breach of the Act for not

11 having a constitution and a party, frankly, whose leader — I

12 will stop there as it is going to be rude so I will not –

13 whose leader knows little, if anything, about the procedure

14 for registering political parties.

15 A. Mr. Hoar, that is not my expertise. We wanted to form a

16 party, a grouping, and we did so. Councillor Choudhury had

17 the responsibility to attend to those matters and he kindly

18 did. We went into the 2014 Mayoral and Council election under

19 the umbrella of Tower Hamlets First.

20 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Rahman, help me on the question of

21 constitution. One would expect the constitution of a

22 political party to contain rules for the admission of people

23 to the political party. I imagine you would be familiar with

24 that from your days in the Labour Party.

25 A. Sure.

[Page 1902]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. What I cannot understand is what was your mechanism for

3 admitting people to Tower Hamlets First as a party if you do

4 not have a constitution?

5 A. Sure. I am not saying there is not a original document, my

6 Lord, setting out its aims and objectives and terms of conduct

7 etc. It is not a constitution in the traditional sense as the

8 Labour Party or the Conservative Party or the Lib Dem Party

9 has because we are not a party in the traditional sense. We

10 do not have a membership. Our members are the councillors and

11 the candidates who stood on the platform of Tower Hamlets

12 First.

13 Q. If someone came to you and said, “Mr. Rahman, I would like to

14 stand as a candidate for your party”, are there rules in

15 existence which would govern whether you admitted that person

16 or not or would you simply yourself decide whether or not he

17 was going to be a candidate?

18 A. No, clearly there was a pack, my Lord, and Mr. Choudhury, as

19 an agent, went through that pack which has the protocol of the

20 Electoral Commission guidance and some basic norms about what

21 is required to be a candidate. The process was this.

22 Potential candidates approached me at the first instance and I

23 asked some basic question. We did not have a traditional

24 machinery as such. As I said, it was a grouping of people.

25 We asked some basic questions as to what qualifies them to be

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[28] (Pages 1903 to 1906)

[Page 1903]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 a candidate. Those people were then passed on to Councillor

3 Choudhury, who went through the formalities. There was a pack

4 that was in existence.

5 Q. So in effect Councillor Choudhury chooses the candidates.

6 A. I did the initial vetting, my Lord, and the candidates were

7 passed on to Councillor Choudhury to go through the

8 formalities before they could be nominated as our candidate.

9 MR. HOAR: I want to explore that more, if I may, but can I just

10 ask you about membership, please. How do you join Tower

11 Hamlets First?

12 A. We do not have a membership, a formal membership as such.

13 Q. Really?

14 A. No.

15 Q. So why do you say at paragraph 66 on page 17 of your witness

16 statement: “Whilst not a strictly organised party, Tower

17 Hamlets First is certainly distinguishable from me and it

18 would be an insult to its members to assume that they joined

19 simply to support me” so how do you join?

20 A. Councillors.

21 Q. No.

22 A. Councillors.

23 Q. You said “members” —-

24 A. What I want to —-

25 Q. Do you want to correct that?

[Page 1904]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. Let me correct that, Mr. Hoar.

3 Q. You want to correct paragraph 66, do you?

4 A. Can I just say what I meant by that is that we do not have a

5 formal membership, Mr. Hoar. We do not have members as such

6 per se. Our members, the members of Tower Hamlets First are

7 its councillors and the candidates who stood for councillors

8 who did not make it through. That is all it is.

9 Q. So no subscription, no membership card, no statement of values

10 like the Labour Party, no constitution, no membership list,

11 you do not know how many members you have, there are no

12 disciplinary proceedings, there is nothing, is there? There

13 is nothing to it.

14 A. I would not accept that.

15 Q. It does not even comply with the minimum requirements of the

16 Act.

17 A. I am sure it complied and therefore it formed a grouping. It

18 formed a party to go into the 2014 election.

19 MR. HOAR: I think you have just discovered that it does not. Can

20 I take you, please, to the Labour Party rule book in relation

21 to candidate selection for local government, please, after his

22 Lordship has asked some questions.

23 THE COMMISSIONER: You say that you are unaware of the scheme for

24 running the financial affairs of the party, which appears to

25 be an obligatory document, but that is something on which

[Page 1905]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Councillor Choudhury may help us. How are the financial

3 affairs regulated?

4 A. My Lord, I believe it would be incorrect if I said I did not

5 know of its financial obligations. Of course I know of its

6 financial obligations.

7 Q. No, its financial arrangements.

8 A. I was required to sign some documents when the grouping was

9 formed and I do know, and I do ask, that regulatory returns

10 are submitted and declarations are made about the financial

11 affairs of the grouping, of the party.

12 Q. But returns of what? How does money come in and how does

13 money go out?

14 A. Donations, my Lord, donations, expenditure. We have to submit

15 a return to Companies House and to the Electoral Commission,

16 the relevant authorities, on a regular basis. Those are

17 submitted.

18 Q. I follow that, but how are the financial affairs arranged?

19 That is something that, at the moment, I am a bit baffled

20 about. Presumably you have a bank account.

21 A. We do not have a bank account. (Laughter) We are not a party

22 in that sense. People will make commitments, my Lord, and the

23 money will be spent.

24 THE COMMISSIONER: For example, if someone comes to you,

25 Mr. Rahman, and says, “I think you are doing a great job. I

[Page 1906]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 want to put £10,000 into your campaign.” You would not

3 presumably expect them to produce a pile of non-consecutive

4 fifties. How is it physically paid?

5 MR. HOAR: Or maybe you would.

6 MR. PENNY: No, sorry, that, I am afraid, is exactly what is going

7 on in this court at the moment. It is the pursuit of a

8 vendetta.

9 MR. HOAR: Really?

10 MR. PENNY: Including comments along those lines. That is quite

11 inappropriate in the public sphere.

12 THE COMMISSIONER: Your protest is noted.

13 A. My Lord, can I explain?

14 Q. Yes, I would like you to explain. I am interested to know the

15 mechanics of it.

16 A. My Lord, we do not have a bank account because we do not have

17 so much money coming into us. For this leaflet, for example,

18 we would not know if this leaflet would cost X amount; yes? A

19 volunteer would ask me, “Look, this would cost this amount and

20 the payments will be made by me to go to the printers or by

21 someone else —-

22 MR. HOAR: The trouble is, Mr. Rahman —-

23 THE COMMISSIONER: Let Mr. Rahman finish.

24 A. If someone decides to support us, my Lord, we would not ask

25 for the money to be given to us. We would say, “Please pay on

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[Page 1907]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 our behalf to the printers” so they would make the

3 disbursements on our behalf.

4 Q. How is that then logged?

5 A. We would know. We would write the name of the donor’s name –

6 Mr. Choudhury will explain that when he comes in — or the

7 person who has paid the money directly. The details will be

8 noted and the amount will be noted. The amount will be

9 declared at the appropriate stage, my Lord.

10 Q. So there would somewhere be an account book of some kind in

11 which the donations would be noted.

12 A. Yes, my Lord.

13 Q. And the expenditure that is made, for example, on the leaflet.

14 A. Yes.

15 MR. HOAR: So, Mr. Rahman, in that case, you will not have any

16 problem at all bringing that book on Monday morning, will you?

17 A. Mr. Choudhury will explain and will produce whatever —-

18 Q. No, Mr. Rahman, I am saying to the court that I am quite happy

19 for you to ask Mr. Choudhury whether he can provide that to

20 you over the weekend and if he can, you will be quite prepared

21 to bring it to the court on Monday morning, will you not?

22 A. You have said what you have said. I will need to speak to Mr.

23 Choudhury, Councillor Choudhury.

24 Q. I look forward to seeing it.

25 A. He is the one who deals with the financial affairs and I am

[Page 1908]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 sure he can explain.

3 Q. Good.

4 A. And the process is that, my Lord.

5 MR. HOAR: Because the problem with your —-

6 MR. PENNY: My Lord, I would like to make some submissions,

7 please.

8 MR. HOAR: That is fine.

9 MR. PENNY: I would like to make some submissions.

10 THE COMMISSIONER: In the absence of the witness or not?

11 MR. PENNY: The witness is entitled to be present. I am content

12 for the witness to be removed whilst I make the submissions.

13 THE COMMISSIONER: No, if you are happy, he can stay there.

14 MR. PENNY: I want to invite my learned friend to cease making

15 statements or expressions of personal opinion. I would like

16 him to act as an advocate and an advocate who asks questions.

17 MR. HOAR: That is a completely inappropriate objection, if I may

18 say so, my Lord. I am doing nothing but asking questions and

19 putting propositions to a witness. It is a ludicrous

20 objection, if I may say so.

21 THE COMMISSIONER: As with jokes, it is the way he asks them. I

22 think Mr. Penny does take the point that occasionally your

23 questions do stray —-

24 MR. HOAR: I apologise for that.

25 THE COMMISSIONER: —- into the area of —-

[Page 1909]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 MR. PENNY: Melodrama.

3 MR. HOAR: They are not comments though. They are propositions to

4 be put to the witness and that is entirely proper, of course.

5 Can I take you back, Mr. Rahman, to the issue of donations.

6 What you have said is that you have no bank account; yes?

7 A. Yes.

8 Q. Therefore, there is no one record of the donations that your

9 political party will receive, is there?

10 A. There are records, Mr. Hoar, there are records.

11 Q. But the records will be sporadic records of donations and

12 payments to different organisations rather than one bank

13 account, will they not?

14 A. “Sporadic” is your word. There are records. There is a

15 system in place which clearly shows what bills have been paid

16 and how they have been paid.

17 Q. But that record is entirely a matter for Councillor Choudhury.

18 How he puts that together is crucial, is it not?

19 A. It is a proper record and proper declarations are made to the

20 appropriate authorities.

21 Q. So the risk for Councillor Choudhury is that if somebody says,

22 “Councillor Choudhury, I do not believe you are taking an

23 accurate record”, he has got no way of saying, “No, it is all

24 going into this bank account”, has he?

25 A. Money does not come — that is why we do not have a bank

[Page 1910]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 account. Money is expenditure on money that is spent,

3 incurred costs, costs incurred and the donor will pay for

4 money spent directly.

5 Q. We have to take it on trust from Councillor Choudhury that he

6 is keeping an accurate record, do we not?

7 A. Councillor Choudhury keeps records and we have full confidence

8 in him in keeping records.

9 Q. We have to keep it entirely on his trust, do we not?

10 A. And —-

11 THE COMMISSIONER: Where are the records kept?

12 A. Councillor Choudhury keeps those.

13 Q. At home?

14 A. Yes, his home is the registered address.

15 Q. His home is the registered address of the party.

16 A. Yes, my Lord.

17 Q. So if any suggestion was made that he was not keeping an

18 accurate record, it would just be his word against somebody

19 else’s, would it not?

20 A. I am sure it could be cross-referenced.

21 Q. How?

22 A. Ask Councillor Choudhury when he comes in.

23 Q. You do not think that as leader, you ought to perhaps keep a

24 closer eye on these sorts of things, Mr. Rahman?

25 A. I do. I have full confidence in Councillor Choudhury.

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[Page 1911]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. Do you?

3 A. He is the Council’s Cabinet member for resources and finance.

4 He has done a good job for the last five years.

5 Q. But you have just heard from his Lordship that, unbeknownst to

6 you, he has breached the Act by not having a constitution.

7 A. Well, let us —-

8 THE COMMISSIONER: No, Mr. Hoar, that is not entirely fair. What

9 the witness says is if there is a constitution, he has no idea

10 where it is or what it is or even of its existence. There may

11 be, in Mr. Choudhury’s home, a copy of the constitution, which

12 at some stage I shall be shown. All Mr. Rahman says is, “If

13 there is, I have not got one and I have not seen it.”

14 MR. HOAR: You are much more of a Tory than a Whig, are you not?

15 You like your unwritten constitutions, do you not, Mr. Rahman?

16 THE COMMISSIONER: I think that is fighting talk with a gentleman

17 of the Left.

18 MR. HOAR: I know. I apologise for the comment. Anyway, can you

19 please turn to this document, Appendix 4, “NEC procedures for

20 the selection of local government candidates”. I am just

21 going to take you, if I may, to the start. These are

22 procedural rules. This is the 2013 rule book so it may have

23 changed a little since your time in the Labour Party.

24 THE COMMISSIONER: Can I just pursue something if I may.

25 Mr. Rahman, were you in court when a Mr. Dawber gave evidence?

[Page 1912]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. For part of it, my Lord.

3 Q. This was a dinner that was held at Island Gardens. Mr. Dawber

4 told us that this was a political donation of the kind that

5 his company makes pretty well across the board.

6 A. Yes.

7 Q. He expressed that they had done the figures and they had

8 worked out exactly how much it was. I cannot remember, but it

9 was something like £45,000. I will be reminded by Mr. Penny,

10 I am sure. As that is a political donation in this case to

11 your party, Tower Hamlets First, what would the mechanism be

12 for the party to record that donation?

13 A. Sure. Councillor Choudhury, in that instance, recorded the

14 value of the donation in terms of the meals, in terms of the

15 hall and the other materials that was attributed to Canary

16 Wharf, my Lord, and that, together with other expenditure,

17 other donations, was declared to the appropriate authorities.

18 There is a proper procedure in place where he records those

19 kinds of transactions. That is an example of where we did not

20 need an account, we do not need an account, my Lord, where

21 money was paid directly from the donor to the provider of the

22 service.

23 Q. These are reasonably substantial sums, of course. This is not

24 a few pounds on a leaflet. This is many thousands of pounds.

25 A. No, absolutely. This is the biggest sum as such that we

[Page 1913]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 received from someone who helped us.

3 Q. As I understand it, Mr. Rahman, what you are saying is that we

4 would be better off asking Mr. Choudhury about all this.

5 A. Yes. That is exactly how it happened.

6 MR. HOAR: Can I take you, please, to your file V, page 1390. Do

7 you have that?

8 A. Yes.

9 Q. Before I get to that, it is right, is it not, that as a party

10 you need a brand; yes?

11 A. Yes, something to recognise it by.

12 THE COMMISSIONER: By a brand, do you mean a logo?

13 MR. HOAR: I mean it in the most loose sense, incredibly loose,

14 rather like THF. I am sorry about that.

15 MR. PENNY: You do it all the time. I do not why you are

16 apologising.

17 MR. HOAR: At page 1390, the brand is this, “Mayor Lutfur Rahman

18 transforming Tower Hamlets three years on”; yes?

19 A. That was the logo, that was the brand, that was the signage we

20 used for this booklet.

21 Q. Page 2, “Three years on”. Turn the page. There is a very

22 nice picture of you, Mr. Rahman. It is a very nicely produced

23 document, is it not? Just flipping through it, it is

24 incredibly impressive. It is very, very nicely set out with

25 lovely pictures, with extremely catchy slogans, the kind of

[Page 1914]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 thing that would prompt anyone to vote for you, is it not?

3 You like it. Presumably you do like it because you used it.

4 A. It is about giving the message of what we had delivered, what

5 we had done as an administration for the last three years, the

6 preceding three years.

7 Q. Page 2 is a nice picture of you and a quote from Mayor Rahman.

8 Page 3 — page 4 and 5 on the original document — “Executive

9 Mayor’s foreword” with another picture of you and a quote.

10 Pages 6 and 7 show a nice picture of you and housing and

11 regeneration with a quote, not from you on that occasion.

12 Page 8 is a nice picture of you with a girl at a school and

13 then a nice picture of you with a police officer at page 9.

14 Then we go on to page 10. There are two pictures of you and a

15 picture of you at page 11. You are in the background on page

16 12, but you are in the foreground on page 13. There is a

17 small picture of you on pages 14, 15, 16, 17, 19 on the

18 timetable, 22 all over the place and your name at the end;

19 yes?

20 A. Yes.

21 Q. But it is not about you.

22 A. It is about me, my administration, what we have done during

23 the last three years. With the booklet, the money was paid

24 for by me.

25 Q. By you. You paid for it?

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[Page 1915]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 A. Not the Council. It was not Council resources. It was our

3 resources.

4 Q. I am not suggesting it was. Who paid for that brochure? Who

5 paid for it?

6 A. Well, clearly I paid for it, we paid for it. I do not know

7 whether it was a donation or whether it went from my

8 resources.

9 Q. You cannot remember.

10 A. I can go back and find out.

11 Q. But Councillor Choudhury has got good records of this.

12 A. Yes, absolutely.

13 Q. And he will be able to give it to you over the weekend?

14 A. We know exactly how much was spent on producing this booklet

15 and the number of booklets —-

16 Q. He will be able to give it to you over the weekend, will he

17 not?

18 A. When he comes in, you can ask him. I am sure he will provide

19 it to you.

20 Q. No, he will be able to give it to you over the weekend.

21 A. He can give the information.

22 Q. To you so that you can bring it to court on Monday morning.

23 If Councillor Choudhury has good records, they must be easily

24 to hand, must they not, Mr. Rahman; yes?

25 A. (No response)

[Page 1916]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Q. If Councillor Choudhury has good records that are in keeping

3 with the Electoral Commission’s rules and the law, he will

4 find it very easy to get a copy.

5 A. Councillor Choudhury keeps the records. He has the receipts

6 and he has got the records.

7 Q. It is up to you. You can bring it on Monday or not, as you

8 wish. You say this in your witness statement at R17. It is

9 paragraph 66: “Whilst not a strictly organised party, Tower

10 Hamlets First is certainly distinguishable from me and it

11 would be an insult to its members to assume that they joined

12 simply to support me. They agree with me and accept my

13 leadership because my record aligns with their values.”

14 Then you say, “Tower Hamlets First would be perfectly

15 capable of existing without my presence.” Can I take you,

16 please, to the regulated entry profile of your political

17 party, Tower Hamlets First, with the Electoral Commission? It

18 is a document you must be familiar with bearing in mind you

19 are the leader of that political party. (Same handed)

20 Can I ask you to look at right at the bottom. These are

21 the slogans that you have registered for your political party:

22 “Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s team”; “Lutfur Rahman’s team”; “Lutfur

23 Rahman’s progressive alliance”; “the Mayor’s team”; “Mayor

24 Lutfur Rahman’s independents”; “Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s

25 community alliance”; “East End independents”; “Tower Hamlets

[Page 1917]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 First”; “putting Tower Hamlets first”; “Lutfur Rahman, Tower

3 Hamlets First”; “Lutfur Rahman, putting Tower Hamlets First”.

4 How many of those refer to you?

5 A. Quite a few.

6 Q. Can you count? I asked how many.

7 A. I said quite a few.

8 Q. Eight out of eleven. Eight of eleven of your slogans have

9 your name on them. The first of them talks about your team,

10 does it not? They use your title, “the Mayor”, which you

11 like, do you not? You like your title, do you not? Your

12 civil servants call you “the Mayor” all the time.

13 A. I have no comment. They also call me Lutfur.

14 Q. Your face and your quotes appear all over that document that

15 we have just seen, do they not?

16 A. We chose the name of the grouping, Tower Hamlets First. We

17 may have given it a number of descriptions but, at the end of

18 the day, the description we gave was Tower Hamlets First,

19 Mr. Hoar.

20 Q. Can you please turn to R43.21, Mr. Rahman, in the same file,

21 file R, with your witness statement?

22 A. Which paragraph?

23 Q. 43.21. It is paragraph 100: “I have read the second statement

24 of Ahmed Hussain ….” and then it goes on into other matters

25 which need not concern us. “In respect of paragraph 35, there

[Page 1918]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 is no condition attached to grants requiring plaques to be put

3 up saying that the plaque project was opened by the Mayor.

4 This is just custom and practice for all projects under my

5 administration.” You wrote that just weeks ago, did you not,

6 in January; yes? Did you not?

7 A. Yes.

8 Q. It is your witness statement.

9 A. Yes.

10 Q. “No requirement, just custom and practice”. Those are paid

11 for by the taxpayer, are they not?

12 A. It is usual for leaders of the counsel, whether the current

13 leadership or previous leadership, if you go around Tower

14 Hamlets, you will see where the leaders have opened

15 initiatives, where the leader’s name has gone on plaques to

16 acknowledge that. It is usual. I can assure you that I am

17 not the first one. It has happened under the leadership of my

18 predecessors, Councillor Denise Jones, Michael Keith and

19 Councillor Abbas. There is signage — you may call it plaques

20 — to acknowledge that.

21 Q. So, to take one example at random, Councillor Abbas would have

22 “Leader, Councillor Abbas” all over Council documents, would

23 he?

24 A. Councillor Abbas has opened new housing where a plaque or

25 plaques have been installed. He is the leader of the Council,

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[Page 1919]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 Councillor Abbas.

3 Q. And the brand of the Council would be “Leader, Councillor

4 Abbas”, would it?

5 A. Sorry, you are talking about the branding of the Council? We

6 are in a different area. We are in the Mayoralty. The change

7 in governance, people need to know. It was not a leader of a

8 cabinet system. It was a mayoralty system. The decisions had

9 to be taken by the Mayor and the Mayor was responsible for

10 those decisions. Therefore, it was only proper, given a need

11 to know and understand the mayoralty. The Mayor was

12 accountable to them. The leader was not accountable to the

13 electorate, to the people of the Borough, apart from his or

14 her ward. Here, we have a Mayor who is responsible to the

15 entire population of Tower Hamlets.

16 MR. HOAR: Could you turn to file G, please, Mr. Rahman?

17 THE COMMISSIONER: Are we turning to another matter?

18 MR. HOAR: No, but it would be a convenient moment.

19 THE COMMISSIONER: I think possibly that we can all go and cool

20 off for ten minutes from this unofficial sauna and reconvene

21 at twenty-minutes past three.

22 (A short break)

23 MR. HOAR: Mr. Rahman is entitled to be present, because he is a

24 party, of course, and I am going to make the application that

25 I make now in public. I apply for immediate (or as soon as

[Page 1920]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 possible, not later than 9 p.m. tonight) disclosure, pursuant

3 to 31.19, of the accounts of this political party; and the

4 disclosure should be to the High Court, I think. There is a

5 real concern that if we leave it any later than this,

6 documents could be manufactured; and there is evidence that

7 documents have already been manufactured in this case. You

8 saw it yesterday, my Lord. So, I ask that you make that order

9 now, whether by witness summons or otherwise.

10 THE COMMISSIONER: Yes. Sorry, what was the —-

11 MR. HOAR: Well —-

12 THE COMMISSIONER: 39 —-

13 MR. HOAR: 31.19, I think, is disclosure, third party disclosure.

14 THE COMMISSIONER: So, who would be required to —-

15 MR. HOAR: Alibor Choudhary is said to have this.

16 THE COMMISSIONER: Yes. Even were I with you, there would be

17 nobody in the High Court at 9 o’clock on a Friday evening,

18 that is for sure; and certainly not me.

19 MR. HOAR: The problem is, if we leave it over the weekend, we

20 will have absolutely no way of knowing whether it has been

21 manufactured.

22 THE COMMISSIONER: I follow that. But were such an event to take

23 place — which there seems at the moment, on the evidence

24 I have, no assumption to be made on the matter — then would

25 that not —-

[Page 1921]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 MR. HOAR: Yes, it would. I follow your Lordship’s thinking.

3 THE COMMISSIONER: On the other hand, I think that it would be

4 desirable, given Mr. Rahman’s evidence with regard to the

5 position of Mr. Choudhury as his agent and as the Treasurer of

6 the party, if the accounting records of the party were brought

7 to court by somebody for start of business on Monday. I would

8 also quite like to see (if such exists) whatever document was

9 sent to the Electoral Commission as being the party’s

10 constitution and whatever document was sent to the Electoral

11 Commission as being the draft of the scheme for the management

12 of the affairs under section 26.

13 MR. PENNY: Surely, the Electoral Commission is the correct party

14 to whom this ought to be directed. If you are going to stand,

15 as my learned friend is, and make a wild allegation in

16 public — and it is not the first one, let’s face it — then

17 why do you not go to the Government body that regulates the

18 elections, instead of —-

19 THE COMMISSIONER: No.

20 MR. HOAR: Not the accounts.

21 THE COMMISSIONER: I think, Mr. Penny, that the primary source of

22 the constitution and the statement of its financial affairs,

23 the primary source for that must be the company itself — in

24 this case, the political party itself.

25 MR. PENNY: Shall I read you what the Electoral Commission

[Page 1922]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 published about this?

3 THE COMMISSIONER: I am simply going on Schedule 4 to the 2000

4 Act. If these documents exist, they should be in the

5 possession of the political party. If they are in the

6 possession of the political party, there is no reason why the

7 gentleman who has been mentioned should not produce them here

8 at 10 o’clock on Monday morning.

9 MR. PENNY: I am sure that is right. But you might, actually,

10 like to read what is actually published by the body that is

11 responsible for the regulation of this — because I do not

12 know that anybody has in this courtroom.

13 THE COMMISSIONER: At the end of the day, I go on the Statute

14 rather than on what the Electoral Commission publish.

15 MR. PENNY: You are a High Court judge, or you are a Deputy

16 High Court judge. But there we are.

17 THE COMMISSIONER: So, my source is the Statute.

18 MR. PENNY: Yes, of course.

19 MR. HOAR: My Lord, I still have a concern, which is this. It is

20 all very well to say that were it to be presented on Monday

21 and to be forged, that would be a great point for us. It is

22 actually a point which I follow entirely. However, how on

23 earth are we going to find out? Are we sending it to

24 Mr. Radley for a documentary analysis?

25 THE COMMISSIONER: No. Simply, at the moment, it is going to be

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[Page 1923]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 produced in court by somebody at 10 o’clock on Monday morning.

3 If the documents do exist, we can look at them, and if they do

4 not exist, then somebody at some stage will probably provide

5 an explanation for us.

6 MR. HOAR: We can look at the documents that purport to be the

7 documents referred to.

8 THE COMMISSIONER: Whatever documents are produced, we will look

9 at; and if none are produced, we will not.

10 MR. PENNY: Can I just raise a matter —-

11 MR. HOAR: Just to be absolutely clear, it is not a wild

12 allegation.

13 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, Mr. Penny has an application.

14 MR. PENNY: These proceedings need to be taken control of, because

15 what is going on at the moment is, in public, in very high

16 profile proceedings, the most ridiculous conduct I have ever

17 seen in a courtroom in 22 years on behalf of a member of the

18 Bar; and it is happening in a case where, as you know, the

19 oxygen of publicity will be feeding this on to the wires.

20 Your Lordship, as well as having the obligation of making the

21 fact-sensitive decision in this case, as you do, has a

22 responsibility to the public to ensure that conduct which is

23 appropriate to proceedings of this nature is observed; and

24 that, in my submission, is not happening at the moment.

25 MR. HOAR: I do not accept any of that, my Lord. I suggest that

[Page 1924]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 my learned friend withdraw that comment.

3 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, at the moment, I work on the

4 principle that if you ask a question that is improper, I shall

5 stop you. If Mr. Penny objects to a question, and he is

6 right, I shall stop you. But you conduct your

7 cross-examination, as Mr. Penny conducted his, as you consider

8 fit.

9 MR. HOAR: I note that there will —-

10 THE COMMISSIONER: It is right to say that the issues that have

11 been ventilated in cross-examination, namely, the structure of

12 Tower Hamlets First, that issue does appear to me to be

13 relevant to an issue raised in the petition, namely, the issue

14 — which is clearly on the petition and is argued both ways by

15 both sides — as to whether and to what extent the party is or

16 is not, as it were, an emanation of the Mayor.

17 MR. HOAR: Indeed.

18 THE COMMISSIONER: That is an issue in the case. Mr. Penny has

19 addressed it from one side, you are addressing it from the

20 other. But it seems to me that that is something that may

21 legitimately be explored in cross-examination of Mr. —-

22 MR. HOAR: May I say —-

23 MR. PENNY: Your Lordship will have noted that I did not

24 suggest —-

25 MR. HOAR: May I say, before my learned friend —-

[Page 1925]

1 LUTFUR RAHMAN – HOAR

2 MR. PENNY: —- I did not suggest otherwise. I am talking about

3 the nature of the proceedings. I am not talking about the

4 content of the questions; and nor am I talking about the

5 content of the questions that your Lordship has asked. I am

6 talking about the nature of these proceedings and the conduct

7 that is going on.

8 MR. HOAR: My Lord, if my learned friend had objections, perhaps

9 he should have put them. I do submit that is — in any event,

10 there we are.

11 THE COMMISSIONER: More questions, fewer comments, Mr. Hoar,

12 I think is the —-

13 MR. HOAR: Well, Mr. Rahman cannot cope with that.

14 THE COMMISSIONER: Well, that is a comment that should not have

15 been made, Mr. Hoar.

16 MR. PENNY: QED.

17 THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, do not engage in the aside. Not

18 simply does it annoy Mr. Penny, but it also does not help me.

Read Full Post »

While most eyes are naturally on the Election Court hearing the sometimes idiosyncratic business of Tower Hamlets council carries on.

On February 4, Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet met to discuss the question that has been a battle cry among some for almost a decade – a cemetery for Tower Hamlets.

As with most if not all inner London boroughs, there isn’t one. After plans to reopen Mile End’s deconsecrated Tower Hamlets Cemetery as a multi faith burial ground were roundly squashed in 2007, this issue has been a hardy election and petition perennial.

Respect pushed it particularly hard when they were a force under their own name and it has been something that Lutfur, aware of a grassroots demand, has been trying to deliver since he became mayor in 2010.

The obvious problem is that in inner London there is no space. Council officers have been trying to find solutions for years.

I last wrote about it here in 2013 when I reported that Lutfur had authorised a budget of £3m to find somewhere north east of the borough and “within the M25″.

Almost two years on, we learn from the report presented to cabinet this month that these efforts have come to nothing. Their attempts at doing a deal have collapsed after worries about the vendor’s ability to deliver planning permission.

It means that an unspecified amount has been wasted on legal fees, according to the cabinet paper.

But fear not, we’re told in councilspeak, because these costs will be recouped by savings they think they’re going to make on a deal with another cemetery they’ve located.

That cabinet paper notes the council is under no legal obligation to provide a burial site. It also says that under current arrangements, the council provides a £225 subsidy to families wanting to bury their loved ones – mainly at the City of London and Woodgrange Park cemeteries in Manor Park, and the Muslim Gardens of Peace cemetery in Hainault.

Burial plots aren’t cheap. A new private grave at City of London can cost £2,200 plus service fees; at Gardens of Peace, the charge is more like £2,700.

The demand for council subsidies and/or a longer term solution is understandable in somewhere like Tower Hamlets.

So it would be interesting to know how many people would agree with the proposals agreed at cabinet.

What proposals, you ask. Well, if you were to examine the cabinet report you wouldn’t know. The council hid the details in part 2 of its agenda, the “pink papers” section of the meeting that excludes the press and public on the grounds of apparent “commercial confidentiality”.

Perhaps you can be the judge of the merits of that. Here are those leaked pink papers:

And here’s my summary.

The cabinet has agreed to buy three acres of land at Kemnall Park Cemetery in Chislehurt, in the borough of Bromley…for £3m. The report states this is enough land for 3,000 burial plots, which they reckon will be filled within 15 years (at 200 plots a year).

Kemnal Park is an existing private cemetery, just off the A20.

Screen Shot

The council reckons it would take about 25minutes for people in Tower Hamlets to drive there. That may be so for the zombies of Mulberry Place, but as the more alert well know the travel time back northbound through the Blackwall Tunnel is usually far longer.

At 4.30pm this afternoon the journey time from Whitechapel, according to Google maps was about 40minutes.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 16.36.48

Anyhow, I’m not sure that’s the main issue (and there’s perhaps a wider one about maintaining links to east London. Manor Park and Hainault certainly do that).

Here are the finances.

As well as the £3m capital cost, there seems to have been something of a disagreement between officers and Lutfur on ongoing annual revenue expenditure.

Officers wanted to recoup this £3m by making an annual profit from the selling of graves. Under the officers’ proposal, the council would commit to buying 200 plots each year over 15 years at a cost of £1,000 each.

Officers calculated that if they then charged residents £2,237 for each burial fee, the cost to the taxpayer over 15 years would then be zero.

However, paragraph 7.7 of the leaked report reveals that Lutfur wanted to charge just £650 per burial, citing Waltham Forest council’s policy as an example. According to officers’ calculations, running at a loss in that way would mean an extra ongoing cost to the taxpayer of £70,000 a year.

Adjusted for inflation over the 15 year term, that would be an average of £83k per annum. In total, the capital and revenue costs together would be £3.8m.

Is that vale for money?

Is this something money should be spent on? What is the opportunity cost, what else could/should this be spent on?

What do you think?

Read Full Post »

I’ve not yet had the chance to be in court (although tomorrow might be a fun occasion as Mamun Rashid, the former Respect councillor who stood for Labour in Shadwell last May, takes the witness stand…but only after he asked for the services of an official interpreter. Yes, you read that right: an interpreter is needed for a former councillor who took home £40k from council resources between 2006-10.)

John Biggs was the star turn yesterday and he by all accounts spent five hours in the stand. The transcript of his appearance runs to 200 pages and contains 50,000 words, so that’s too long even for this blog.

I’m going to make it available as a document here (Erlam & Others v Rahman & Williams – Proceedings 03.02.15 – Day 2), and I will also post his official witness statements in due course.

They contain fascinating bits of evidence, much of it contested by Lutfur Rahman of course.

I’ll highlight below seven pages of exchanges between John Biggs and Lutfur’s QC David Penny. They are on pp320-330 of the transcript.

They give interesting insights into the way back room deals are alleged to have happened between the two politicians during the contested mayoral selection process of 2010, ie before Lutfur was expelled from Labour.

Lutfur denies this meeting took place. The petitioners are being represented by Francis Hoar. The Election Court commissioner is Richard Mawrey QC.

The trial continues.

Here’s the extract from the cross-examination of John Biggs by Mr Penny.

14      MR. PENNY:  There is one issue where there is a conflict that I

15          just want to explore with you for a little bit.  Would you be

16          kind enough to go to your witness statement at page 196,

17          paragraph 99.  You are talking about Mr. Rahman, your

18          relationship and your observations of him: “I was reminded

19          also of LR’s ability to mobilise support when at the time he

20          was off the shortlist of 2013 and hedging his bets on how he

21          could secure influence in the event that I became Mayor.  He

22          and a number of his colleagues, including Councillor

23          Choudhury, visited my home late at night twice to offer

24          conditional support and offer of their block of votes in this

25          election in return for guarantees of positions of influence in

                                          320

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

    2          the event that I became Mayor.”  Is that accurate?

     3      A.  It is accurate, yes.  I know that from Lutfur Rahman’s

     4          statement no. 4 that he says that that meeting did not take

     5          place, but there were two such meetings.

     6      Q.  We will look at that in a second.  Just look at the first

     7          sentence of it: “I was reminded of LR’s ability to mobilise

     8          support at the time he was off the shortlist in 2013.”  That

     9          cannot be right, can it?  He was not off the shortlist in

    10          2013.  He was the Mayor in 2013.

    11      A.  No, you are quite right.  This would be in 2009 then.  Yes, I

    12          am four years out.

    13      Q.  When the squabble was going on about who was going to be

    14          elected.

    15      A.  I am four years out.  It was 2009, you are absolutely correct.

    16      Q.  It can make a wee bit of a difference, can it not, four years?

    17      A.  Well —-

    18      THE COMMISSIONER:  So can we change that to 2009?

    19      A.  Yes, I apologise.

    20      MR. PENNY:  That is all right, do not worry.

    21      A.  It was certainly a year before the Mayoral election.  I just

    22          got the wrong Mayoral election, you are quite right.

    23      Q.  Typographical errors can creep into the production of witness

    24          statements and so forth.  So far as this witness statement is

    25          concerned, did you draft it all yourself?

                                             321

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      A.  Unfortunately, I did, yes.

     3      Q.  Each and every paragraph is yours, is it?

     4      A.  I do not know where this is leading to but, yes, I spent many

     5          a weekend at my desk in City Hall drafting and redrafting and

     6          paraphrasing and chopping it about, looking for evidence and

     7          putting together this gargantuan thing, yes.  Is that a

     8          problem?

     9      Q.  It is a question, Mr. Biggs, and you have given me an answer

    10          so I am bound by it.  As you will know, the rules of evidence

    11          establish, all right.  Can we move, please, to the statement

    12          of Mr. Rahman to which you have made reference.  That is in

    13          volume R.  It is his fourth witness statement at paragraph 85,

    14          which is at page 4319.  Let me understand this.  Are you

    15          suggesting that Lutfur Rahman came to your home twice in 2009?

    16      A.  Have I got the wrong year then?  Yes, you are quite right, it

    17          must have been 2010.  After the Mayoral referendum, there was

    18          a short period between the May election and the October

    19          election in which the Labour Party attempted to select a

    20          candidate.  There was one shortlisting meeting, which was then

    21          repeated with a second shortlisting meeting.  Between that and

    22          the point at which Mr. Rahman was placed back on the shortlist

    23          following the various legal interventions, he attended my

    24          house so it must have been in September or something,

    25          August/September 2010 then.  For the second time, I have got

                                             322

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2          the wrong year.  It was 2010.

     3      Q.  Let us get the chronology clear for his Lordship.  The

     4          position was that Mr. Rahman was unsuccessful in seeking to

     5          get on to the shortlist first time round.

     6      A.  Yes. S.

     7      Q.  The processes which the Labour Party had adopted were

     8          unlawful, there was a legal challenge and he was then put back

     9          on the shortlist.

    10      A.  I would not agree with that, but those are your words.

    11      Q.  I think the Labour Party settled the action and paid his

    12          costs; is that right?

    13      A.  They settled the?

    14      Q.  They settled the action against him and paid his costs.

    15      A.  I give an account of that in my second witness statement,

    16          which is my understanding of what happened.

    17      Q.  But one way or another, he ended up back on the shortlist.

    18      A.  Yes.

    19      Q.  He then won the election first time round.  In relation to

    20          that election, you were second and Mr. Abbas was third.

    21      A.  This selection, not the election, yes.

    22      Q.  There was a list and then there was the election proper for

    23          the nomination.  He was successful in votes.  Forgive me, I

    24          should make it clear.  He is not on the original selection

    25          list, he challenges that, he then is on the selection list.

                                             323

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      A.  There is another iteration.

     3      Q.  Go ahead.

     4      A.  He was rejected, there was a completely fresh panel, he was

     5          interviewed again, he was rejected again, he then exercised

     6          his right of appeal to something called the Disputes Committee

     7          or something — this is all in the appendices to his second

     8          statement — and then following that, by whatever route, he

     9          received a letter saying that he was on it, then a second

    10          letter saying he was not, his lawyers then fired off missives

    11          and he was placed back on it.

    12      Q.  Then there was the election.

    13      A.  No, there was then the National Executive Committee meeting.

    14      Q.  I am talking about the votes for who was going to be the

    15          candidate.

    16      A.  The selection?

    17      Q.  Yes.

    18      A.  Yes.

    19      Q.  I am probably using the wrong terminology.  All I am trying to

    20          establish, as I asked you this morning, is that he was first,

    21          you were second and Helal Abbas was third.  Then there was

    22          intervention from the NEC and you were not made the candidate,

    23          but Helal Abbas was, which is what I was asking you about

    24          earlier on.

    25      A.  Yes.

                                             324

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      Q.  So far as these meetings are concerned, you say that they took

     3          place at your address.  I do not want to expose that in court,

     4          but that was within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

     5      A.  It is my wife’s home, yes.  It is well-known that it is now

     6          her private address, or my ex-wife.

     7      Q.  Who else was there apart from Mr. Rahman?

     8      A.  I was thinking about this last night because I read Mr.

     9          Rahman’s statement.  He said the meeting did not take place.

    10          Mr. Rahman was there, Mr. Alibor Choudhury was there, Mr. Ohid

    11          Amed was there, Anwar Khan was there and I think there was a

    12          fifth person, but I am not too sure who it was.  I was there

    13          on my own.  He had asked that I not have anybody present with

    14          me, which I thought was a bit one-sided, but I am a reasonable

    15          guy and I accepted that.

    16      Q.  Did you make a telephone call in 2010 just prior to his court

    17          challenge?

    18      A.  I have no idea.  We did attempt to communicate by telephone

    19          once or twice in this matter.  I think following his election

    20          as Mayor, I attended one or two meetings with him at the Town

    21          Hall where we talked about the possibilities of

    22          reconciliation.  In advance of this election, I was quite keen

    23          at finding ways of healing things over so we did have

    24          conversations.

    25      Q.  This is before the challenge to his exclusion from the Party

                                             325

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

    2          shortlist.  You telephoned him, did you not?

     3      A.  I have no idea.  We were in the business of speaking to each

     4          other to maintain —-

     5      Q.  Look at paragraph 85 of his statement rather than —-

     6      A.  I have no recollection.  We have spoken on the phone in the

     7          past, but not for a long, long time.  We must have spoken at

     8          about this time, but the contents of the conversation which he

     9          relays in this statement are not true.

    10      Q.  So there is no possibility of you having said to him that if

    11          he withdrew from the proceedings against the Labour Party, he

    12          may have a future in Parliament or the House of Lords?

    13      A.  I certainly could not have offered him such a future.

    14      Q.  You see what is in the witness statement, Mr. Biggs.  I am

    15          just asking you whether such a conversation may or may not

    16          have taken place.

    17      A.  I took this paragraph to mean that, in some way, I had

    18          threatened, offered or attempted to cajole him into not

    19          challenging something in order to please myself and offered

    20          him the inducement that he might get confirmed as a result of

    21          that and no such conversation took place.

    22      Q.  Did you say that senior figures within the Party would come

    23          down on him like a ton of bricks?

    24      A.  I have no recollection of saying that.

    25      Q.  Is it a possibility?

                                             326

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      A.  Okay, I have no recollection of saying that in the context in

     3          which it is placed here and I have no recollection of a

     4          detailed conversation with him in which we covered these

     5          matters.  I do not recall that, no.

     6      Q.  Are you ruling it out?

     7      A.  I am ruling out that I did not have a conversation with him in

     8          which my tone could be construed as threatening.  I did not

     9          have a conversation with him at which I offered him a seat in

    10          Parliament or the House of Lords because they are not within

    11          my gift.  Even if I wanted to make such an offer, I could not

    12          have done so.  We did talk during this because it was a

    13          stressful time for both of us.  We were both mighty pee’d off,

    14          I was going to say, that the whole thing had been deferred

    15          again and again.  It was stressful for every candidate and we

    16          did try to maintain civil conversations during it.  That was

    17          my interpretation of what happened.

    18      Q.  Was there a telephone conversation in which you invited him to

    19          desist from the legal action that he was taking?

    20      A.  I do not recall such a conversation.  I think he may have told

    21          me that he was considering legal action, I have no idea.  What

    22          would I have said in response to that?  I do not know.

    23      Q.  You heard my question.  Did you invite him to desist in the

    24          legal action that he was taking against the Labour Party?

    25      A.  You keep asking this question and I am just trying to be

                                             327

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2          helpful by trying to remember something that I do not

     3          remember.  I do not remember having any conversation with him

     4          which could be phrased in the fashion in paragraph 85.

     5      Q.  You keep saying that you cannot remember.  I am asking you

     6          whether it could have happened or not.  In other words, are

     7          you ruling this out?

     8      A.  I am ruling out a conversation in which I threatened him or

     9          offered him inducements or tried to encourage him to get out

    10          of the way to give me a free field or whatever is insinuated

    11          in this paragraph.

    12      Q.  Are you ruling out a conversation in which you invited him to

    13          desist in his legal action against the Labour Party?

    14      A.  Yes, I am ruling that out.  I mean, we may have had a

    15          conversation in which he said that he was minded to do that.

    16          We might have talked about what that might mean in various

    17          guises, but I have no recollection of such a conversation.

    18      Q.  What would the conversation have been about then?  “Oh, John,

    19          they have deselected me.”  How does it go after that?

    20      A.  I have no recollection of such a conversation.  I am just

    21          trying to imagine what would happen if I had a conversation

    22          with someone in that position who was a mate of mine.  I would

    23          say, “Life is not at an end.  You could consider a legal

    24          challenge.  The Party may not support you.”  I have no idea

    25          what I would have said.

                                             328

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      Q.  You were rivals, were you not?

     3      A.  It is interesting you say that.  We are not rivals to the

     4          death in my opinion.  I have always taken the view that the

     5          Labour Party is a fraternal organisation and that we work

     6          together and we try to secure candidates and victories.  I

     7          think my record shows that on occasions when I have lost in

     8          the past, I have valiantly endorsed and supported the

     9          candidates who have won.  At the moment, Lutfur was successful

    10          before the NEC suspended him.  I held his hand aloft outside

    11          the Labour Party office and spoke to the TV cameras with him

    12          and put an arm around him and said, “Good on you, mate. I am

    13          behind you.”  I was very sincere in saying that.  It is not

    14          quite like a war where one of you has to die at the end of it.

    15          It is an adversarial process in which only one of you can win,

    16          but hopefully at the end of it, you put away your swords and

    17          you work together towards the common good.  That is the point

    18          of having a political party.

    19      Q.  In 2010, were you or were you not rivals for the nomination to

    20          be the Labour Party candidate in the Tower Hamlets Mayoral

    21          election?

    22      A.  Obviously we were.

    23      Q.  There was no chance of the words “coming down on you like a

    24          ton of bricks” being mentioned in this conversation?

    25      A.  Shall I read the paragraph again?

                                             329

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2      Q.  Of course.

     3      A.  The meetings at my home did not take place.  They did take

     4          place.  All I can say about this is at that the meeting that

     5          took place in my home, Mr. Rahman told me that he had a block

     6          of votes which he said was of the order of 200 votes — I

     7          thought that was rather less than the number of votes at his

     8          command — and that he would deploy those in my favour.  He

     9          wanted me to offer him in return for this an assurance that I

    10          would make his nominated candidate the Deputy Mayor if I

    11          became Mayor and that I would offer half the places in the

    12          cabinet to people from his faction or grouping.  I said in

    13          response to that in those conversations, misguidedly or

    14          otherwise, that what I wanted to do was to try to represent

    15          the different factions and interests in the party in the

    16          administration of Tower Hamlets in the event that I became the

    17          Mayor and that I would certainly consider his nominations, but

    18          that was not a reasonable request for him to make.

    19      Q.  I hope I made it clear that I was asking you about the

    20          telephone conversation.

    21      A.  There was no telephone conversation of the type intimated in

    22          this paragraph that I am aware of.

    23      Q.  None whatsoever?

    24      A.  We had a telephone conversations.  I cannot remember what

    25          their content was, but there was certainly no conversation the

 

                                             330

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2          purpose of which was to threaten and to harry him or to

     3          discourage him from standing or making his legal challenge.

     4      Q.  At this stage, you still wanted to be the candidate, did you

     5          not?

     6      A.  Yes, of course I did.

     7      Q.  You were none too happy when Mr. Abbas was installed as the

     8          candidate.

     9      A.  By that stage, as I said earlier today, I thought it was a bit

    10          of a train wreck, I was weary and battered by the whole

    11          process and I thought, “Stuff it” momentarily to myself.  Yes,

    12          it was my ambition to be the Mayoral candidate and I then went

    13          away and here we are today.

    14      MR. PENNY:  Indeed.  Thank you very much, Mr. Biggs.

 

Read Full Post »

There was a little bit about this in the press this week, but I was expecting more.

Let’s stress at the outset that the timing of the Electoral Commission’s decision to publish its report on vote fraud three days ago, given the Tower Hamlets election trial is due to start on Monday, was purely coincidental.

But because it honed in on the issue of potential fraud in British Bangladeshi communities, it made for particularly interesting reading.

Here’s the press release issued by the Commission:

The Electoral Commission has today laid out what is being done to prevent electoral fraud ahead of the May elections, including work by Returning Officers, the police and Crimestoppers.

The watchdog has also published two research reports – by NatCen and academics at the universities of Manchester and Liverpool – and a briefing paper on electoral fraud, fulfilling a commitment it made as part of its review of electoral fraud last year.

During this review the Commission heard anecdotal evidence and views that raised questions about whether fraud was more likely to be committed by, or in support of, candidates standing for election in areas which are largely or predominantly populated by people from British Pakistani or British Bangladeshi communities.

This raised concerns about whether people in these communities were able effectively to exercise their right to vote and participate in elections on the same basis as other voters in the UK. As a result, the watchdog commissioned further research with members of the public and political activists in eight demographically similar areas; four with histories of allegations or actual instances of fraud and four without.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said: “Proven cases of electoral fraud remain rare, but it is important that no-one underestimates how serious it is when it does occur. We have long known that, when fraud is committed, candidates and campaigners are the most likely offenders and voters are the victims. The research we have published today confirms this.

“The research also provides a useful insight into some of the particular issues faced by voters in some British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi communities, and how these can be tackled. Although clear plans are in place to prevent and detect fraud ahead of the elections, there is also a challenge to campaigners. They must ensure their behaviour builds trust with all voters, and all those involved in elections must make it a priority to communicate what is and what is not acceptable behaviour at election time.

“As we approach the election, it’s important that anyone who has evidence of electoral fraud reports it to the police in their area, or, if they want to do so anonymously, contact Crimestoppers.”

What the research shows

A summary of the research findings is below, but further details are available in the briefing note or in the reports themselves.

Strong community networks provide valuable support to people, but they may also be vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous campaigners.

There can be low levels of public awareness about what is acceptable campaigning activity and what is electoral fraud.

Voters in some British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi communities can be unsure where to report concerns about electoral fraud.

Low levels of literacy or a lack of English skills can exacerbate electoral fraud vulnerabilities.

Reduced activity by political parties in some areas, together with a reliance on kinship networks or those perceived to be “community leaders”, may also exacerbate vulnerabilities by focusing on winning the support of voters as a single group rather than as individuals.

The Commission has also set out today how it is working with the police and local authorities to support their plans to prevent and detect fraud ahead of the May elections. Further details of these actions can be found in the attached briefing note.

Action ahead of the May 2015 elections

The Commission, Police, Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers have different roles in relation to electoral fraud but are working together to ensure robust prevention and detection plans are in place ahead of the May elections. This package of measures includes:

Guidance on electoral fraud for police forces – this was published in November by the College of Policing, with support from the Commission.

Partnership with Crimestoppers – The Commission is working with Crimestoppers to make sure that, although the police should be the first point of contact to ensure concerns about electoral fraud are swiftly investigated, if people are worried about revealing their identity, they can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. A translation service is available for those whose first language is not English.

A national seminar for specialist police officers – the Commission will join specialist police officers in February to help them prepare ahead of the elections, and exchange knowledge and strategies.

The Code of Conduct for Campaigners – The Commission will be making campaigners / parties aware that they must follow this agreed code.

Materials for police and local authorities – The Commission is making these available in a variety of languages for police and local authorities to use to let voters know what electoral fraud is, how to report it, and what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable campaigning.

Monitoring postal voting during and after the May 2015 elections, to identify whether there is scope to further improve security processes.

Longer term work

Some issues raised in the research are already being looked at by the Commission:

Voter ID –We recommended in January 2014 that there should be a requirement for electors across Great Britain to present an acceptable form of identification prior to voting at the polling station by no later than the 2019 European and English local government elections. We are currently considering how to develop a proportionate and accessible scheme for verifying the identity of electors at polling stations, and expect to publish our detailed proposals by the end of 2015.

Postal voting – New security measures for postal voting were introduced for elections in 2006, and voters now need to give ‘personal identifiers’ (their signature and date of birth) when applying for and casting their postal ballot. In addition, the introduction of individual electoral registration (IER) in Great Britain in 2014 further limits the scope for fraud in the postal voting process. Under the new system voters need to have their identity verified by providing a date of birth and a national insurance number. IER therefore makes it much harder to create fictitious electoral register entries, which could be used to commit postal voting fraud. The Commission is continuing to monitor campaigner behaviour and has not ruled out the need for the law to be changed to make it an offence for campaigners to handle any postal voting materials.

But this press release omits many other solutions proposed by the academics. Let’s hope they’re won’t be ignored.

The research was carried out by four academics from Liverpool and Manchester universities. Entitled ‘Understanding electoral fraud vulnerability in Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin communities in England’, the report was based on 37 interviews with community and political activists in eight local authorities where there was a high concentration of voters from those groups.

It’s not clear whether Tower Hamlets was one, although it’d be surprising if it wasn’t.

One of the main issues they found was the existence of influential kinship networks that can help deliver what some call bloc votes, ie ” male elders” calling the shots, telling family members how to vote. In essence, the researchers blamed political parties and activists for exploiting these rather than placing too much fault on the voters themselves.

They also said these closed networks often result in the selection of poor political candidates, ie the elders choose puppets in their circles who then get the bloc vote.

“These networks tend to be…hierarchal and patriarchal, which may undermine the principle of voters’ individual and free choice through a range of social pressures such as respect for the decision of elders at its mildews extreme, through to undue influence where in some instances access to individual ballots of women and adult children can be refused by elders,” the academics note.

The report is 55 pages long, but its executive summary and its conclusions are particularly interesting.

Although Jenny Watson, the chair of the Electoral Commission, says in her quotes above that proven cases of fraud are rare, the academics suggested the actual level of fraud might well be under-reported – in part because those defrauded may not know they have been.

They write: “In some areas where fraud allegations have not been raised, the local activists do not feel they receive enough support to combat fraud, especially from the police and local political parties.”

However, they suggest there is hope. They think the elders through generational change will lose their influence and that younger people are “reported to be resisting the influence of their kinship networks”.

Fast forward to p44 of the academics’ report here and you see a raft of proposed solutions.

For example, on voter registartion (which applies all voters of course):

..our first recommendation is for a system of automatic voter registration (or at least an opt-out system) where at point of contact with NHS, and/or any government service, the individual is prompted to register/asked to opt out.

And there are others which didn’t merit a mention in the Electoral Commission press release, and which may or may not have relevance to Tower Hamlets and the impending trial next week. I’ve italicised those I found more interesting.

  • Stricter and more transparent guidelines to political parties and candidates on postal vote handling as the Electoral Commission has already proposed
  • The information whether a person has a postal vote should be included in the secrecy of voting – ie activists and parties should not be allowed to collect this information;
  • Tightening the rules on voting at polling stations by increasing the radius safe from political pressure, enforcing the law already specifying that the tellers must not be present in the polling station.
  • Introducing some form of identification to cast a vote.
  • To compensate for the increased difficulty of voting, new registration laws should be introduced to either automatically enrol voters, for example via other points of contact with the state, or create an opt-out system.
  • Given the weakness of parties as inclusive agents for political participation, the government and local government must fund more direct voter information, registration and turnout efforts at the individual voters in these communities.
  • Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers should receive greater and ring-fenced funding in areas where additional needs are present to deal with severe under-registration, lack of knowledge of eligibility or poor English language skills.

The academics hope the following cultural changes should take place:

  • Political parties should take a greater responsibility for not accepting the bloc vote delivered or promised by community leaders
  • Political parties should aim to strengthen their support for diversity of elected representatives. Widening access to standing for elected office to all minority groups, regardless of whether the candidate’s ethnicity matches those of voters, should be one of the parties’ main objectives.
  • Both parties and communities should strongly encourage women of all ethnicities to participate more in politics, including making this participation easier for women and more relevant to their daily lives.

I suspect Richard Mawrey QC, who is due to preside over the Election Court at the Royal Courts of Justice from Monday, will have read this report with some interest.

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