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.
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.
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 —-
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
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?
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?
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.
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,
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?
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 —-
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
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?
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.
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.